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Democrats Dodge Post-Rangel Gavel Fight

March 5, 2010

From this Link:

The race is on for permanent control of the Ways and Means Committee.
The Democrats’ decision to install 78-year-old Michigan Rep. Sander Levin as acting chairman of the panel Thursday forestalled a brutal fight for the support of leaders and rank-and-file members.

But it also served as the starting gun for a minimarathon that will decide who gets power over tax, trade and entitlement policy for years to come.

Out of respect for New York Rep. Charles Rangel — who insists he’ll regain the gavel once the ethics committee gives him a clean bill of health — the candidates for the top spot at Ways and Means aren’t declaring their plans just yet.

But a lobbyist with close ties to House Democrats said he expects to “hear of preparations in the coming weeks.”

It may not even take that long.

Sources close to Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who is sixth in seniority on the panel, say he’s reviewing his options and has significant support from Democratic colleagues and business interests on K Street.

Neal would have to climb over Levin, Washington Rep. Jim McDermott and Georgia Rep. John Lewis to get the gavel.

Asked about his own intentions Thursday, McDermott, cited a Rangel saying that every member of every committee plans to be chairman or chairwoman someday.

“There’s always time to consider things,” he said.

Levin wound up in charge at the end of a 24-hour pass-the-gavel game in which Rangel resigned because of ethics troubles and California Rep. Pete Stark stepped down at the urging of colleagues who worried his bombastic style could hurt the party.

Stark’s decision to step aside allowed Levin, the next in seniority, to become acting chairman without the involvement of the full Democratic Caucus, or its steering committee, a speaker-dominated panel that makes highly influential recommendations for committee and chairmanship assignments.

That suited the needs of Democratic leaders, who didn’t want a nasty public fight over the gavel while they try to complete work on a landmark health care bill and head into a tough election season. It also gave the Ways and Means Committee members something they wanted: a chairman other than Stark.

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