WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Dodd is expected to announce plans Thursday to keep the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee while playing a more active role on policy matters in the other two committees where he is a senior member – Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
 
Speculation has run rampant since last year that Sen. Dodd could seek the top post in those committees. Sen. Joe Biden, the chairman of Foreign Relations, is set to become vice president, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chairman of the HELP panel, is in poor health given his battle with brain cancer. Sen. Dodd is the No. 2 Democrat on both committees.
 
For now, however, Sen. Dodd appears ready to stay put as chair of the Banking Committee, even while trying to raise his profile on the other two panels. He is expected Thursday to lay out his agenda for all three committees at a press conference in the afternoon, sources said.
Hardly his top aspiration, it was circumstances that lifted the Connecticut Democrat to the chairmanship of Senate Banking. The 2006 mid-term election unexpectedly won Democrats control of the Senate just as the then-veteran committee Democrat, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the longest-serving senator in Maryland’s history, was retiring.

At the time, Sen. Dodd had been preparing to make a run for the White House. At a Banking Committee hearing after the elections, he joked that given the long tenure of Sens. Sarbanes, Kennedy and Biden, it had looked like he would never get his chance to be a chairman, and that banking was the first of the committees to finally have an opening.

But he spent his first year as chairman campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, drawing widespread criticism he was an absentee chairman.

He also continued to appear more enthusiastic about issues outside his committee's jurisdiction, including establishing universal healthcare and withdrawing troops from Iraq.

After he dropped out of the presidential race, he regrouped and came out as an early supporter of Democrat Sen. Barack Obama. Rumors have swirled that he might desire a cabinet post in an Obama administration, but sources said Sen. Dodd himself views that as unlikely.

In the last year, Sen. Dodd has appeared to be making up for lost time. He’s hauled the financial regulators up to Capitol Hill for scores of hearings, briefings, negotiations and press conferences. He also managed to help shuttle through two of the most massive financial services bills to be signed into law in years, in only a few months time – the housing bill in the summer and the financial rescue legislation last month.

Despite those accomplishments, however, observers have said his personal passions are more aligned with the two other committees on which he serves. Still, the financial crisis has given renewed importance to the chair of Senate Banking. Lawmakers have committed to revamping the structure of the financial regulatory system - a massive undertaking that is expected to have a long-lasting impact.

Sen. Dodd’s office has refused to confirm any rumors about the senator’s plans but have stood behind recent comments that Sen. Dodd plans to pursue an active agenda as Banking Committee Chairman including regulatory reform.

His office put out a circumspect press release Wednesday which simply said, “Senator Chris Dodd Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and a senior member of both the Committees on Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, will hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon to discuss his priorities for the next Congress.”

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