Specter leaves GOP

Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) is switching parties today, leaving the GOP and joining the Democratic caucus.

This is big news for a couple of reasons. As soon as Al Franken is seated from Minnesota, this means that the democrats will have a 60-seat majority in the Senate. On party-line votes, this means that they're filibuster-proof. They won't have any excuses for not getting their agenda passed now. I hope to see a serious health-care package and better choices on infrastructure, moving us away from highway packages and towards more public transit.

Rumors had been swirling for a while about Specter. He's facing a primary challenge from the right by Pat Toomey, and his numbers weren't looking very good. By running as a Dem, he increases his odds of a victory substantially.

He's always been a moderate anyway, and was a vocal opponent of executive power grabs by the Bush administration. He's also pro-choice, pro-civil-unions for gays, and favors immigration reform that includes amnesty. As the GOP has shifted right in recent years, all of these positions have put him at odds with his own party. He's been under increasing fire from the GOP's right flank after crossing party lines to vote for the stimulus package, one of only three senators to do so.

He'll still be a moderate as a Dem, and the party won't be able to count on him for every vote without making concessions, but this is still big news.

Update_ part of Specter's statement_

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

I also forgot to mention that Specter is a cancer survivor and huge advocate for funding the NIH and other science agencies. Another plus for the distinguished Senator from Pennsylvania.


Written by Joel -

I'm not crazy over the idea of a filibuster proof senate. Still, this is yet another rebuke to an already failed party. Depending on how well the economy recovers (and national security), this defection could signal a shift in American ideology.

Written by Chris -

You know, a few years ago, I might have felt the same way. Back then, filibusters were reserved for blocking egregious laws or nominees that were clearly unqualified. These days, everything is subject to the threat of filibuster, to the point that you really need 60 votes to get anything done. I also feel like we're one of those points in American history where the stars are aligned right for sweeping change (analogous to the New Deal era). We've been sweeping problems under the rug for years, ignoring climate change, energy usage, transportation and infrastructure, health care, and corporate deregulation. Instead, we spent the better part of a decade worrying that shadowy figures would emerge from the darkness and kill us all. Now the focus is finally back on the real issues, and we urgently need to make up for lost time. I'm still going to be holding our pols responsible, and I'm quite certain that they'll screw some of it up. That said, I'm enthusiastic that they'll get a lot of it right, or at least moving in the right direction. Maybe I'm not cynical enough (which would be a first), but that's a chance that I'm willing to take.

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