Party’s Priorities Flow to Dodd

Back in Senate, Work Awaits

Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:50pm

Fresh off a disappointing bid to claim his party’s nomination for president, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) returns full time to the Senate this month with high expectations from his colleagues — and particularly his leadership — that he will play a key role in their plans to make the economy a dominant issue this year.

As chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Dodd has jurisdiction over a number of critical issues, including credit reform and the continuing mortgage crisis, and his panel will be at the center of much of the Democrats’ work on an economic stimulus package.

But during his campaign for the presidency, Dodd chose to focus much of his time and energy on foreign policy issues and became an outspoken critic of President Bush’s wiretapping programs, going so far as to filibuster a compromise Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization because of privacy concerns.

That prompted some private complaints from Democrats, who felt Dodd should have focused more on core issues under his committee’s jurisdiction, particularly when the foreclosure crisis began to heat up last fall. Party leaders were reportedly unhappy with the fact that Dodd did not spend more time personally working on the mortgage legislation his committee produced and which Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) ultimately helped shepherd out of the chamber.

And while some hard feelings may remain, Dodd is set on hitting the ground running in terms of his committee work this year, planning an aggressive agenda that will feed into the party’s broader economic efforts, aides said.

According to one aide, in addition to looking to address the mortgage crisis — which “continues to be a priority for the chairman and the committee” — there is a host of other priorities Dodd has planned out that will likely be part of the broader economic agenda. For instance, he will push forward with legislation and oversight hearings addressing student lending, industrial loan corporations, “sovereign wealth funds” that take on direct foreign investments and flood insurance reform.

Dodd also is participating in talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and other leaders to develop the Conference’s broader economic stimulus package and to map out a strategy to move it forward this year.

“The chairman has been in close contact with the Majority Leader and other chairmen of relevant committees” in the development of the Conference’s economic agenda, and he anticipates playing a significant role both publicly and legislatively, the aide said.

However, the aide said, Dodd will not lose focus on the FISA issue and confirmed he plans to filibuster any legislation that is brought to the floor if it does not address his concerns.

Democrats said the FISA fight — which could come in the first week or two of the new session — may be an early test of whether Dodd’s presidential campaign has caused any significant strains in his relationships with colleagues.

One senior Democratic aide said that while some Democrats could have been irked in the heat of the moment, most understand it is the nature of presidential campaigning for candidates to tackle hot-button issues and to rely heavily on veteran staff for day-to-day work in the Senate.

“I think it’s too early to say” whether there are any hard feelings, the Democratic aide said. “But I think you could term it as a key few months for him” in terms of his reintegration into the Caucus. “It will be interesting to watch when he returns,” the aide said.

The fact that the economic agenda will be a collaborative effort will either help smooth the transition from presidential candidate back to the Senate or cause friction with his colleagues, this source said. Noting that in addition to Reid, Baucus and either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — assuming one of them becomes the party’s eventual presidential nominee — Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) “will have a role it it. … Schumer will have a role in it. … No one person is going to be able to take the ball and run with this,” the senior aide explained.