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.