(adds Harkin, Lincoln background)
WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Senator Tom Harkin will replace the late Edward Kennedy, a fellow liberal Democrat, as chairman of the U.S. Senate health committee, a key panel in the drive for healthcare reform, a Democratic Party aide said on Wednesday.
In addition, Senator Blanche Lincoln will succeed Harkin as chair of the Agriculture Committee, the aide said. Both committee chairs are expected to be announced later on Wednesday along with Senator Chris Dodd’s decision to remain as head of the Senate Banking Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to announce the new positions for Harkin and Lincoln following a closed-door meeting of Democrats.
An Iowa native, Harkin, 70, has a long-standing interest in public health and has been part of this year’s work on health care reform. He also is leader of an Appropriations subcommittee that oversees public health programs.
Harkin led congressional passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, inspired by the experiences of a brother who was deaf. Harkin is a "wellness" advocate who supports disease prevention, healthier lifestyles and good nutrition.
"I’ll know in a while," Harkin told reporters who asked if he was surrendering chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee. "Things will move pretty rapidly, I would assume."
Lincoln, a Democrat in her second term, would be the first woman to head the Agriculture Committee. She was a staunch defender of farm subsidies during drafting of the 2008 farm law.
Lincoln founded and currently heads the bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus to help focus attention of her colleagues and the nation on the millions of Americans, especially children, who suffer from food insecurity.
The daughter of an Arkansas farm family, Lincoln was elected to the House in 1992 and the Senate in 1998.
Lincoln is "a great champion" for agriculture, said the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation. The group said Lincoln understands the contributions of the farm sector to the U.S. economy and is "a good fighter for her beliefs." (Reporting by Tom Ferraro and Charles Abbott)