Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Daily Strike-4/28/09-Specter Bolts

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Huge news today in the world of politics: Arlen Specter, a 28 year Senate Republican from Pennsylvania, has switched parties. Let's give you the rundown.

REPUBLICAN BETRAYAL: In a crushing blow to the Republican party, Arlen Specter has decided to switch political parties and run for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat. The first question we must ask is why he did it. There is one reason and one reason only: reelection. He was being challenged in the Republican primary by arch-conservative Pat Toomey, who he barely edged in 2004. Toomey was leading by 20 points in a poll released last week. Specter had raised the ire of state Republicans for voting in favor of the economic stimulus. He was pretty much toast in the primary. According to Pennsylvania law, if you lose the primary, you're done. No Lieberman-ing, in other words. Now that he's running as a Democrat, he probably has the primary field all to himself. With the votes of independents and Democrats, he would crush Toomey in a general election. Specter might say that he now agrees more with the Democratic party than the Republican party, and that he doesn't want to be beholden to a party. I don't buy it. Why would he have gone on a diatribe against Eric Holder if he knew he was leaning towards joining the Democratic party? Why would he have abandoned the Employee Free Choice Act? Having said that, Democrats should embrace him with open arms, as they have. President Obama was very welcoming. He told Specter that he's happy to have him on the team. Democratic Senators went over the top in lauding their new caucus-mate.

The next question is what does this all mean. Most analysis of this in the media highlights that if Al Franken is seated, Democrats will have a filibuster-proof majority. I think that's a bit misleading. Specter may not be the most reliable Democratic vote on a whole host of issues. However, as Ezra Klein (I hope you're reading this Ezra! I sent you a link!) wisely points out, Specter now has an incentive to see the Democratic party succeed. As a member of the Republican minority, the Democrats' failure was his gain. Now that he's in the majority, his electoral success depends partially on how much of Obama's agenda is signed into law. That should encourage him to vote more along party lines. He would especially be motivated to turn leftward if he got a good primary challenge, which the Big Picture will talk about later in this post.

The final question is what this means for the Republican party. This is pretty devastating for them. I think they still haven't learned the lessons of their crushing losses in 2006 and 2008. The party has applied such a strict litmus test on their candidate's because they're so rigid in their ideology. The problem is, most Americans don't agree with their ideology. As a result, they are driving the moderates out of their party. Quite frankly, Specter was well aware of these dynamics, and he realized that it would be much more politically beneficial to him to associate with a big-tent, reasonable Democratic Party than a far-right bizzarro Republican party.

What will be interesting to see in the next few days is how quickly Specter tries to earn good favor with his new political party. He can start by voting for the conference report on the Democratic budget resolution. He says he's currently undecided on the matter.

MEANWHILE: The Specter news swamped the other important events going on at the Capitol. The Senate today passed a bill to make it easier to hold mortgage companies reliable for fraudulent behavior. This bill had been debated for over a week. The final vote was an overwhelming 92-4. The no votes came from usual suspects Republicans Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Inhofe (OK) and Kyl (AZ). This vote will probably be one of the last where we see this on the Senate website:

Casey (D-PA), Yea
Specter (R-PA), Yea (bolding is mine).

The Senate also voted today (finally) to confirm HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius. Her nomination had been stalled due to Republican objections to her positions on abortion. The final vote was 65-31. All Republicans voted no except for Bond (MO), Brownback (KS), Collins (ME), Gregg (NH-one small ounce of loyalty to the man he almost called boss), Lugar (IN), Roberts (KS) and Snowe (ME). All Democrats voted yes, including the newest one, Arlen Specter. Her confirmation at long last ends President Obama's arduous cabinet search. She will be sworn in later this week.

The House of Representatives voted on same remaining suspension bills this morning. The House then voted this afternoon on a "same day rule," that will allow the conference report on the budget resolution to be voted on tomorrow morning. The important procedural vote passed 233-191. 17 Democrats voted no (pretty much your standard Blue Dog list). The only "yes" vote from the GOP came surprisingly from Maryland's Roscoe Bartlett. I wonder if the old man pressed the wrong button or something.

The vote on the rule providing consideration of the conference report 234-185, with 11 Democrats joining all Republicans in dissent. The rule allows for one hour of debate prior to a final vote.

We will have full results of this important vote in tomorrow's entry. I estimate that it will pass with around 230 votes, with all Republicans joining about 20 Democrats in opposition. The Senate will presumably vote on the conference report at some point tomorrow as well, to give the President a big victory on his 100th day in office.

That's it for us today. This Specter thing prevented me from talking about Obama's trip to the FBI and his Rose Garden celebration honoring our nation's best teachers. I think you'll survive, especially with this "Big Picture Corner" on the Specter news.

It is CRITICAL that, after a couple month honeymoon, a serious Democratannounces a primary challenge to Specter. There shouldn't be any personalattacks that will piss him off, but just a "we need a REAL Democrat" challenge.Either it unseats Specter, or it does the very important work of holding his feet to the fire, make him vote like a Democrat to appeal to the Democratic primary electorate. That is of the utmost importance.

One odd element of this that I can see becoming "important" down the road is that Specter was one of the very few Republicans to occasionally vote with Obama, and therefore by the standard of the Looks, show that Obama's bipartisan. So ironically this will lead to less Republicans voting with Obama, therefore providing "evidence" for the Jay Costs and Michael Barones to say that Obama is so "polarizing" and not living up to his promise.

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