WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd confirmed Thursday that he planned to keep the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, laying out an expansive agenda, but he made it clear that his ambitions reach beyond banking.
The bulk of Sen. Dodd's agenda focused on monitoring the Treasury Department's implementation of the $700 billion emergency financial bailout, restructuring the regulatory system for the financial services industry, and continuing to press for more loan modifications.
But the Connecticut Democrat also made it clear that he intends to be a player on policy matters that fall under the jurisdiction of the two committees where he is next in line — Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions — saying those "other issues are of great importance to the country and to me personally."
Throughout his press conference Thursday, Sen. Dodd steered clear of specifics. For example, he said he had not reached a conclusion about whether there should be several regulators overseeing risk in the financial services industry or just one.
"We must ensure that all institutions that present a risk to our financial system and taxpayers are carefully and sensibly supervised," he said. "This responsibility could reside with a single regulator or multiple agencies. I haven't made up my mind yet."
Sen. Dodd issued a warning: "We need to remove negative incentives for regulators to compete against each other for bank and thrift clients by weakening regulation. Regulators should not have to fear losing institutions."
But he also repeated priority items that he first listed two years ago when he became the Banking Committee chairman, such as credit card and predatory lending reforms, on which he has taken little action.
Sen. Dodd said that he hopes to play a role in steering President-elect Barack Obama's selection of economic advisers, and that he is urging the new administration not to wait until the January inauguration to dig in to the financial crisis.
Speculation has run rampant since last year that Sen. Dodd could seek the top post in the foreign relations or health and education panels.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been elected vice president. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the education panel, is battling brain cancer. Sen. Dodd is the No. 2 Democrat on both committees.
For now, however, he said he is ready to stay put as the Banking Committee chairman, even while trying to raise his profile on the other two panels.
"I'm not giving up my seniority," Sen. Dodd told reporters after his press conference.
He went on to say that he had spoken recently with Sen. Kennedy, a friend and longtime Senate colleague, to offer his assistance on health care reform.
But Sen. Dodd said keeping the banking chairmanship was too tempting, given the financial crisis.
"This is the central issue of our day, and this committee will play a central role," he said. "This is the central question of the day, and it seemed to me at this juncture, I had an important role to play."
He also said the fact he likes the makeup of his committee made the choice easier. He gave special credit to the top Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.
"I have a very good committee," Sen. Dodd said. "If I had a dreadful committee or a bad partner, not someone like Dick Shelby, I might have gone to another committee … but we worked very well together in the 110th Congress, and we have a good relationship."