Will Grassley Step Down From Senior Finance Position?

Will Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will step down from his position as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and become the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee? A lot of signs point to yes, and that has reformers on the Hill and elsewhere–who prefer Grassley’s record to that of his potential replacement–pretty worried.

If it happens, it will be thanks, indirectly, to Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection into the Democratic party. Specter was the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and his big move on Tuesday created an opening that has yet to be filled. As I reported earlier this week, though, the committee’s senior Republican–Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)–is prohibited by Senate Republican Conference rules from taking over the committee. And only two of the three eligible senators–Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)–make much sense.

Of those two, Grassley has some advantages: He’s a more senior on the committee, for instance, and he isn’t as controversial or conservative a senator as Sessions is. But he is ranking member of the Finance Committee–a committee with tremendous power, particularly with health reform on the horizon–and he’d have to leave that post if he were to take over for Specter.

So why would he do it?Well, for one thing, he’s running up against term limits on his committee. Come 2010, he’ll have to find a new post, and his heart is supposedly in the Judiciary Committee. If he doesn’t take the position now, it will be filled in 2010 and he’d have to take a different top slot–possibly on the Budget Committee.

And then there’s the possibility of quid pro quo. If Grassley gives up his position on Finance now, it will likely go to Orrin Hatch–the same Orrin Hatch who’s unable to serve as ranking member on the Judiciary committee. And that’s a move that might make some FDA and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists very happy.

The pharmaceutical industry that long has benefited from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s legislative efforts has directed large sums of money to a charity he helped found — and still raises money for — while also hiring the Republican lawmaker’s son as a lobbyist.

How perfect.

As with so many big moves on the Hill, the situation is very fluid and rumors are flying like monkeys and squirrels, which, of course, clouds the issue. But the possibility of a Grassley-Hatch swap is very much in play–whatever happens may be decided at the Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday–and that’s making some on the Hill very, very nervous.

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