The New Chair of the Senate Health and Education Committee

The Chronicle has a writeup on the new chair of the Senate health and education committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who replaces the late Ted Kennedy.

Harkin wasn’t seen as the most likely replacement for Kennedy:

Mr. Harkin’s decision to accept the chairmanship came as somewhat of a surprise to higher-education lobbyists, many of whom thought the post would go to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, who was third in line for the position [behind Chris Dodd, who turned down the post to continue helming the Senate banking committee, and Harkin]. While Mr. Harkin, a longtime supporter of public-health and biomedical research, was said to be interested in the job, some lobbyists believed he would have a hard time relinquishing control of the agriculture committee because the panel is so critical to his rural constituents.

The new chair has an important task before him:

As chairman of the education panel, formally known as the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Mr. Harkin will be responsible for crafting legislation to end the federally guaranteed student-loan program, as President Obama has proposed. The U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee has already passed its version of the bill (HR 3221), and the House is expected to bring it to the floor for a vote as early as next week.

Some higher-education lobbyists hope the Senate committee, under Mr. Harkin’s leadership, will direct more of the savings to Pell Grants than the House proposal does. The House bill would spend some of the money that would be freed up by ending subsidies to banks and other lenders on community colleges and early-learning programs, among other priorities. While Senator Harkin has raised doubts about the president’s plan to make Pell Grants an entitlement, he has historically been a strong supporter of the program, and lobbyists say he may want to spend more of the bill’s savings on the grants.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.