Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Pretty Sweet Deal

Arlen Specter's opportunistic jump to the Democratic Party has been met with glee by the big Democratic players. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has pledged his support for Specter against any and all comers in a Democratic primary, and The New York Times reports today

.... Mr. Specter said on Tuesday that he had received commitments from Mr. Obama and from Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to support him in any primary, backing intended to deter Democratic challengers. Mr. Obama made good on that pledge on Wednesday.

The most outlandish- and telling- statement of support came from Vice President Joe Biden, who as a lon-time friend, commuting buddy, and U.S. Senate colleague of Specter, reportedly was the most instrumental in convincing the guy some Republicans are now calling "Benedict Arlen" to switch parties. Biden said, with apparent pride and lack of irony, "anyone who thinks Arlen is going to cash in his independence has another think coming."

Say what you will about Biden- and so many do- he is right on target. In his statement Tuesday, Specter bragged about his reputed "independence," vowing "My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change."

At his press conference, he confirmed "I'm opposed to the nominee for Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Council, Dawn Johnsen." Then the following day, Specter voted against the budget conference report, which enables the reconciliation process, which would allow for President Obama's budget to pass with a simple majority. And Thursday, Specter joined his fellow Republicans- er, former fellow Republicans- in voting down the amendment offered by Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), which would have added to S896, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, "cramdown." As opencongress.org describes it, this is "a provision giving judges the power to reduce mortgage principals and interest rates for homeowners in bankruptcy," a right currently afforded owners of vacation homes, yachts, and investment properties.

The agreement apparently struck between Speaker Reid and Senator Specter allows the latter to keep as a Democrat the seniority he had as a Republican, as a Senator elected in 1980. Here, openleft.com explains Specter's rank on each of the five committees on which he currently serves and there is a possiblility Leahy will create a special subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee that Specter would chair. There also is speculation that 84-year-old Daniel Inouye of Hawaii may step aside as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to be replaced by Vermont's Patrick Leahy, who in turn would be replaced as chairman of the Judiciary Committee by Specter.

All in all, not a bad arrangement for a guy who a few days ago was down to two choices: stay a Republican and exit the Senate in 21 months; or do a "solid" for Barack Obama, switch parties, and have a chance to survive.

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