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Harkin to Succeed Kennedy as Health Panel Chair

WASHINGTON --  A fierce proponent of the public option and proud, self-identified firebrand liberal will chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, formerly held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, FOX News confirmed late Tuesday.  

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the next most senior Democrat on the Senate panel focused on overhauling the nation's health care system, will fill the seat that was held on an interim basis by Sen. Chris Dodd.

Harkin steps into the breach as the health care debate hits a crucial six to eight weeks of legislative activity.  

Dodd decided against succeeding his friend Edward Kennedy, a Senate aide confirmed Tuesday. His decision means that he will continue to lead the Senate's banking committee and focus his efforts on pushing through a major overhaul of federal banking regulations.

Whether Dodd would succeed Kennedy, who died last month of brain cancer, was the subject of much speculation on Capitol Hill in part because the move would have left the financial reform effort in the hands of Sen. Tim Johnson.

Johnson, whose home state of South Dakota has attracted the credit card industry because of its business-friendly usury laws, is seen as considerably more moderate than Dodd. 

As chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Dodd has been drafting a complex rewrite of the rules that govern banks and other financial institutions. He wants to create a new agency focused entirely on consumer protections, as President Obama has suggested.

But Dodd has questioned other parts of Obama's plan; namely, whether to give new powers to the Federal Reserve to monitor large, influential organizations deemed too big to fail. Instead, Dodd has considered creating a council of regulators to do the job.

A spokeswoman for Dodd did not immediately respond for comment. Dodd's decision was first reported late Tuesday by The Washington Post.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.