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Dodd: GOP gets seniority system right

From NBC's Ken Strickland
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd waited 27 years before he became the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. But Republican Saxby Chambliss got the top spot on the chamber’s agriculture panel only two years after being elected senator.

What gives?

"Republicans do a better job with this than the Democrats," Dodd said during an exit interview with NBC News. "It's good for the institution."

Senate Republicans limit their chairmanships to six years. (This also applies to the "ranking member" position when the GOP is in the minority.) But Democrats allow their members to hold committee gavels indefinitely.

Dodd says he prefers the Republican way.

"I think it's good for the members. They don't get so ossified, waiting for someone to die or get defeated, or make a different choice, to move up,” Dodd said of the GOP’s more fluid system for committee leadership. “They kind of force the institution and individuals to move along."

(To be clear, the rise to chairmanship is by no means an exact science for either party, often involving luck, timing, and election results.)

Dodd spent more than 20 years each on the Senate Foreign Relations, Banking, and Health Committees, sitting behind then-Chairmen Joe Biden, Paul Sarbanes, and Ted Kennedy, respectively.

"I teased them," he said laughing, "loved [them] dearly, built great friendships with them - but for 25 years they never moved." That changed in 2007 when Sarbanes retired and Dodd took the Banking Committee gavel.

NBC's Ken Strickland sat down with nine senators departing the upper chamber this year. He asked Evan Bayh, Robert Bennett, Sam Brownback, Kit Bond, Jim Bunning, Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich the same eight questions and a wildcard query. This excerpt was taken from the transcript of that interview. Additional reporting can be found on politics.msnbc.com