Someone Put Me on Teevee

by Brien Jackson

Just Saying.

If you missed it, Arlen Specter has announced tha he’ll be running for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat, and that he’ll immediately change caucuses in the Senate. That means that Senate Democrats will have 60 members once Al Franken is seated, presumably a filibuster proof majority.

To downplay this somewhat, Specter didn’t really have much of a choice. There was no way he was going to win the Republican primary in the state, and he wasn’t going to be able to win a general election without labor support. Basically the introduction of EFCA was a bullet for Specter. Pulling a Lieberman isn’t possible under Pennsylvania law, and it probably wouldn’t have worked for Specter anyway, assuming the state Democrats put up a respectable nominee. But by running full bore as a Democrat, Specter can potentiallytake the nomination and beat Toomey handily in the general election. But there really wasn’t any other option for Specter, assuming he wants to keep his seat.

What’s most interesting, however, is how this will affect this Congress. Pennsylvania Democrats will presumably not hand their nomination to Specter, certainly not if he maintains a similar voting record to the one he had as a Republican, or continues to support Republican causes like opposing EFCA, or blocking Obama nominees. Indeed, it’s hard to see how Specter could even be competitive as a Democrat without labor’s support, which seems to imply that he will be supporting EFCA once again, presumably putting it on the table. In the past, What’s more, party switching has also been related to shifts in legislative ideology in recent years. Southern Dixiecrats who jumped to the GOP became very conservative members of the caucus, and Northern former-Republicans like Jim Jeffords became fairly mainstream liberals after the change. So if Specter keeps with recent history, you can expect his voting record to move to the left quite a bit.

The move to 60 also rearranges a lot of priorities on a number of issues for key Senators. With 59 members of the majority and a united minority, there’s still a high hurdle to clear legislatively, which creates some incenive for deviation from the majority on certain issues. The rush of Democratic Senators announcing that they wouldn’t support EFCA after Specter announced he would oppose cloture is a good example. With cloture blocked and the proposal dead in the water there’s little reason for members to voice support for the bill if they may be hurt by it. But with a baseline of 60 votes for the majority, those marginal members run the risk of being tagged as the person who killed whatever it is you’re talking about. If Blanche Lincoln misjudges the other “moderates” in the Senate and becomes the lone Democrat to oppose cloture on EFCA, then she’s the person who killed it. The clear incentives here, then, are for Democrats to support cloture on things asĀ  rule, and to attempt to establish their “moderation” by voting against bills at the final vote. But with a baseline of 60 Senators, Democrats can afford to lose up to 10 members on any such vote in the Senate and still pass a bill.

This is big, for at least the next year.