EFCA Update: Arlen Specter has finally come out of the closet…So What?
April 29th 2009 · 0 Comments
Blackberries were abuzz and Twitterers were twittering on Tuesday afternoon as Pennsylvania’s Senator Arlen Specter came out of the closet and declared he was going to play for the other team—the Democrats, that is.
Like a neighbor who has caught his or her mate in bed with someone of the same sex, the town is swirling with gossip and seeming shock at the near-octogenarian’s confession that he is, indeed, switching teams. For example, the Drudge Report has no fewer than seven stories posted on Specter’s switch as of this writing.
“Wow! Have you heard? Arlen Specter has come out of the closet! He’s announced that he’s…a Democrat!” [Yeah...and?....Like who didn't know that?]
Many of his fellow Pennsylvania Republicans already knew he played for the other team which is why Specter has been called a RINO (Republican in Name Only) for years.
On Thursday, after all the castigations on the right and the group hugs on the left has quieted down, the real reaction should be this: B.F.D. Or, rather: So, what’s the big deal?
For a dude who started as a “Kennedy Democrat,” as the Seattle Times rightly points out, Specter has come full circle. He’s walked like a duck and talked like a duck but, until Tuesday, called himself an elephant.
Oddly enough, it appears as though Vice President Joe Biden helped lure Specter to the other team, the two having talked at least 14 times in the last 10 weeks. Indeed, according to Politico, “the Pennsylvania party-switcher placed his first call this morning not to the president, but to Biden.”
Moving May Not Save Specter from Specter
Spin it as he might that “the Republican Party has moved far to the right,” Specter’s move should come as no surprise to anyone as it is one of pure ‘save myself’ politics, and he admits as much in his statement.
Since his goose was already cooked among his Republican constituents for having voted for President Obama’s pork-filled (but-let’s-not-call-it pork) multi-trillion dollar budget, a primary challenge by Republican Pat Toomey spelled all-but-certain doom to Specter’s political career.
However, Specter’s switch still may not be enough to keep his skinny butt in that Senate seat. After all, Arlen Specter is not Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman (who ran and won as an independent when Democrat bigwigs ousted him a few years back). Specter is not nearly as well liked in his home state as Lieberman is in his.
Quite frankly, rather than reading the tea leaves and announcing his retirement as he perhaps should have, Specter may be actually helping the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and, consequently, nationwide in 2010.
Pennsylvania is a state that is Left on both ends of the state, but fairly conservative in the middle. Rather than giving the Democrats a big Republican target to take down (be it Specter or Toomey) in 2010, Specter’s party switch will make many hard-left Democrats queasy to vote for him, even though party stalwarts like the AFL-CIO will likely put him on the ballot.
This queasiness may well lead to Democratic voter apathy and, therefore, leave a big opening for any Republican who can learn how to run a campaign [which remains to be seen] and who can also get the vote out in 2010.
Is Switching Parties a Game-Changer on EFCA?
What happens between now and 2010, however, is what many in the business community are interested in and rightly so. For the time being, Specter will be in the driver’s seat on several key issues, most notably, the hallucinogenically-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
After seemingly siding with union bosses in 2007, Specter had kept his intentions on EFCA rather quiet until last month when he came out against the job-killing legislation as written, Instead, Specter proposed a compromise to the bill which includes shortened elections, stiffer penalties and “equal time” provisions. [For a more complete list of Specter's proposals go here.]
In Tuesday’s announcment, Specter stated that his position had not changed:
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.
While this seems important, it should not be taken as gospel from Specter since, as recently as March 17th, Specter denied that he would switch teams. [Does the word dishonest enter the mind?] In addition, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is giddy with Specter’s switch and announced its intentions to “encourage” Specter to reconsider his position on EFCA.
However, the more important aspect of this is that Specter stated he was opposed to EFCA (as written), Arkansas Democrats Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, as well as Mary Landrieu (LA) and Diane Feinstein (CA) all declared their apprehension over EFCA.
This paves the way for discussions for some sort of compromise to begin. However, it does not mean that there will be any movement within the next month or two—until comedian Al Franken gets seated in the Senate, which seems likely to happen some time over the summer once Norm Coleman exhausts his legal challenges.
However, when all the hand-wringing on the right is done, Specter’s switch doesn’t make an EFCA compromise any more or less likely than before his switch. More importantly, speculation over Specter’s sympathies can now be declared over.
In a cynical move toward self-preservation, Arlen Specter has outed himself and abandoned the party that he held in name only. So what?