Posts Tagged ‘Arlen Specter’

What Specter Means for Healthcare

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Ezra Klein wonders how important Specter’s switch will be for healthcare reform, noting that Specter seems to care an awful lot about reform, and that he was already a likely vote as a Republican. I’ve been trying to game out the incentives for various Senators with Specter effectively in the caucus, and the only thing I can come up with is that Specter as a Democrat makes healthcare reform slighly more inevitable, and may preclude the need for reconcilliation.

Obviously I’m as familiar as anyone with the difficulty of keeping the Democratic caucus together on any vote, so I’m certainly not under the impression that having 60 votes means Harry Reid can pass whatever he wants. Still, healthcare isn’t just another issue, especially not to Democrats. Healthcare reform has been a central principle of the Democratic Party since at least the mid 1990’s. Every Democratic nominee for President since Clinton has enthusiastically supported universal healthcare, and in 2008 every single candidate for President in the Democratic primary supported universal healthcare. It’s not, in other words, an omnibus spending bill, where people will forget your vote in a couple of months anyway and you’re not in danger of killing final passage. Any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform will take a significant hit with more or less every Democratic constituency. Evan Bayh would like to be President of the United States some day, but voting against healthcare reform would make him persona non grata in the national Democratic Party. Arlen Specter can’t vote against reform and expect to survive a Democratic primary in a blue state, even if Jesus Christ himself was trying to keep the field clear for him. Blanche Lincoln has no constituency in Arkansas to be won over by opposing reform. Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu could, in theory, oppose the bill, but to what end? With reconcilliation instructions included there’s no way 2 Democrats can kill the bill, and that’s without considering that the Maine Senators may very possibly vote for the final proposal. With that in mind, any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform, and especially any Democrat who joins a filibuster against healthcare reform, will get all of the scorn and future complications of the vote with no demonstratable benefit. I just don’t see any Democrats who are going to see utility in such a vote.

This Might Be Why You Say Dumb Things

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

At the risk of delving too far back into the realm of criticizing the netroots, I’ve made the point before that I think a lot of netroot progressives thrive on feeling scorned by the Democratic Party, to the point that they need such a feeling, both professionally and personally. And this little missive from Chris Bowers might illustrate that better than anything I’ve ever seen:

So, here is how I understand things:

  1. We get no new votes on legislation from Specter
  2. Democrats are given no opportunity to challenge Specter in either the primary or general election, thereby locking all of his bad votes into place even though he is in a blue state.

So, we not only get no new votes, but we lose the ability to challenge those votes. Apart from the image of total Republican fail, this isn’t a good thing at all. Not only do we have to deal with Specter’s voting record, which is worse than any other Democrat in the entire Senate, but we are denied the opportunity to even challenge him.

This is so absurd, I almost can’t imagine that even Bowers actually believes it. I realize the netroots isn’t big on Harry Reid, and that Bowers was a frequent critic of Barack Obama’s political strategy, but even granting that, surely Bowers realizes that you don’t get to be the leader of the largest Democratic Senate caucus since the late 1970’s, or elected President of the United States when your middle name is “Hussein,” by being as naive about politics as Bowers seems to think the Democratic leadership must be.

Let’s game this out a little bit. What Bowers is basically saying is that Harry Reid and Barack Obama were looking at a Republican Senator who was in a tough spot in his own party, and was holding a seat that Democrats would likely pick up in 2010 anyway, and decided to offer that Senator a very generous offer to join the Democratic Party in exchange for absolutely nothing. That’s just a cartoonishly caricatured level to take the netroot loathing of Harry Reid, and Bowers’s dislike of Obama too. It’s just unspeakably absurd. Did they”promise” Specter that they would try to dissuade challengers from running against him in the primary? Perhaps, but if that’s the best Specter got, netrooters ought to be thrilled, given that there’s no way for them to actually back that promise up. Ed Rendell can’t, in fact, prevent anyone from running against Specter, even someone of high profile in the state. They can support Specter, obviously, but if the next year sees Specter take positions and cast votes that are unalatable to the median Democratic primary voter, it’s going to be very hard for even Ed Rendell to deliver a primary victory to someone who just joined the party after 40+ years in the GOP.

To be as gentle as I can, Chris Bowers needs to grow up.

How Will Specter Vote?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’m actually a bit surprised by the fact that so many in the progressive blogosphere are already wondering whether Specter will just add to the ranks of problematic moderate Senators. I thought there would be at least a day’s worth of happiness before the excitement abated. I guess Specter’s insistence that he’ll continue to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act didn’t help, not did reports that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party promised to keep the primary field clear should Specter decide to run as a Democrat.

Even with all of that in mind, however, I think it’s important to note that Specter is likely to become a much more liberal member of the Senate than he has been, and certainly more liberal than Senators like Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and Blanche Lincoln, all of whom can say that they’re represented fairly red areas of the country, whereas Pennsylvania is trending more and more Democratic with every passing year. It’s also highly unlikely that Specter, as a Democrat in one of the most unionized states in the country, will indeed oppose EFCA. He may craft some superficial compromise to support, rather than making another outright change of “opinion” on the present bill, but at the end of the day, he’ll come away with a position that’s palatable to labor. Ed Rendell might try to keep the primary field clear, but if it’s openly known that labor has targeted Specter in 2010 (in a Democratic primary no less), and that their support is completely up for grabs, it will be impossible for the party to keep every potential candidate away from the race. It’s also true that Specter will need to position himself as someone rank-and-file Pennsylvania Democrats can trust, and have a reason to support over a more longtime party member.

All of which is to say that the incentive structure is such that, no matter what he’s saying now, Specter will need to aggressively position himself as an orthodox Democrat over the next year.

Someone Put Me on Teevee

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

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 as  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.

Specter’s Switch Not Death of EFCA

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The biggest non-Geithner related story of the day yesterday was the announcement from Sen Arlen Specter (R-PA) that he will oppose cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). With a maximum 59 Democrats in the Senate, Democrats needed at least one Republican vote for cloture to end debate on the bill and Specter, as the only Republican to suport cloture on the bill in the last Congress, and as someone who has enjoyed a good relationship with Labor for much of his Senate career, was the most obvious choice. With Specter announcing he will oppose cloture, the prospect of getting any other Republicans on board is highly unlikely, meaning that EFCA probably is on hold, for now.

However, Specter’s volatile political situation likely means that the bill itself is far from dead. Specter’s new position should be understood as a matter of naked political positioning, designed entirely to stave off a primary challenge from former Congressman and Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Specter in a 2004 race in which former President George W. Bush had to be brought in to campaign for Specter just days before the election. Specter has never been liked by the conservative activist base of the GOP and, faced with the prospect of a business community angry over his potential support of a bill to make union organizing easier, was looking at a campaign in which he would have no base of support whatsoever. Now, although he will likely remain unpopular with the Republican base, he can count on support from a business community grateful for his putting EFCA on hold, at least, and who will view him as having a better chance to win a general election than the right-wing Toomey. That said, Specter’s switch likely makes it difficult for him to win in November anyway. Labor groups were major backers of Specter in 2004, and Specter has been more popular with Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania for some time. In a state that is increasingly trending in a Democratic direction, as well as being mor elabor friendly than most, this move makes it very likely that a well positioned, high profile Democratic candidate will unseat Specter in 2010. With that in mind, this move might even make the passage of EFCA more likely in the long run, given the prospect of a marginal Republican being replaced by a mainstream Democrat in a pro-labor state. And I wouldn’t discount the possibility that Specter will flip-flop again between the primary and the general election, in a craven bid to win another term in office, either. So while we’ve probably heard the last of EFCA for at least the next 12-18 months, it’s certainly not dead, either in Democratic politics or in the U.S. Senate.

Toomey’s In

Friday, March 6th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The Hill is reporting that, yes, Pat Toomey is going to challenge Arlen Specter in the Republican primary. This is bad news for Republicans in the Senate. Pennsylvania has gotten much bluer since 2004, and even since 2006 when right-wing Senator Rick Santorum got smashed in a bid for re-election, and this is a double edged sword; it makes it more likely that Specter would be defeated in a general election anyway, but it also makes it more likely that he’ll be beaten by Toomey in the primary this time around, because the holdover left in the Pennsylvania GOP is the true believer remnant. In other words, the median vote in the GOP primary is likely to be very much to the right of the median voter in the general election, a fact that will make it hard for the GOP to compete statewide for a while.

Of course, the best way around this is for Specter to change parties.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Matt Yglesias has the Good Idea of the Day:

In the 2007-2008 congress Specter, no doubt in part as a token of appreciation for that AFL-CIO support, was the lone Republican to back EFCA. If he votes for it again this congress, it’ll be tough for him to win the primary. But if he votes against it, I think he’ll find it tough to win the general election when his support from Democratic-leaning interest groups vanishes. I doubt Specter will avail himself of this option, but the obvious solution would be to stick to his guns on EFCA and follow up his support for the stimulus by switching parties and, like Jim Jeffords, reposition ideologically somewhat. In other words, stop being a vulnerable moderate Republican and become a plain-vanilla Democrat with a safe seat. It would be pretty easy for Specter, as a Democrat, to beat GOP nominee Toomey in a general election. But beating Toomey in a primary without becoming too right-wing to carry the state will be tough.

This really would make the most sense for Specter, especially if EFCA is coming up this Congress. If EFCA comes up, Specter is in an impossible situatiom. If he votes for it, he’ll liely face a strong opponent in the primary, and probably get beat handily. The Republicans will lose his Senate seat, but the conservatives won’t care. If he votes against it, on the other hand , he’ll lose the support he’s typically enjoyed from labor in Pennsylvania and almost certainly lose in the general election. The solution to this problem is pretty obvious, become one of the leading supporters for EFCA in the Senate, and run for re-election as a Democrat.

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This won’t happen, of course, but it’s quite a bit less crazy than it sounds. Specter is already more popular with Democrats than Republicans, at least in Pennsylvania, and a recent poll showed a plurality of Democrats want Specter to remain in his seat, which is fairly remarkable considering that, you know, he’s a Republican. But ultimately it’s too brazen of a move, and you never really see politicians of that level making moves that radical.

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