Sen. Arlen Specter’s decision to betray Pennsylvania workers who helped elect him last cycle and opppose EFCA may go down as the day the bipartisan music died. Specter’s potentially decisive vote to pass EFCA would have likely been the most emblematically bipartisan vote cast in this session of congress and have made him the poster boy for bipartisan kumbaya. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney put it, Specter’s defection is “a disappointment and a rebuke to working people, to his own constituents in Pennsylvania and working families around the country.”
It’s not hard to figure Specter’s motivation. As the gang at MSNBC‘s ‘First Read’ explain:
…he likely has a tough GOP primary on his hands next year. And, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, that primary might be even tougher than we imagined. The poll shows conservative Pat Toomey topping the more moderate Specter by a whopping 14 points in a hypothetical Pennsylvania GOP primary, 41%-27%. Overall, Specter gets relatively high marks from Pennsylvania voters. His fav/unfav is 45%-31%, but among Republicans, it’s just 29%-47%; among Democrats, it’s 60%-16% (who would have thought that?). Per the poll, the reason why Republicans are upset with Specter: his support for Obama’s stimulus. Specter, of course, narrowly beat Toomey in a GOP primary in 2004.
Ironically, Specter’s defection may not save his bacon with his fellow Republicans. As Greg Sargent notes in his blog at The Plum Line:
Doug Stafford of the anti-EFCA National Right to Work Committee added in a statement that Specter’s move should be “viewed with some skepticism,” adding that other labor-oriented proposals championed by Specter remain “totally unacceptable” and will enable “Big Labor to corral more workers into forced unionism.”
Specter’s potential primary challenger, Club for Growth president Pat Toomey, has kept up the attacks, blasting Specter’s vote for the “big government stimulus bill” and dismissing Specter’s opposition to EFCA as merely the result of “a threat in the Republican primary.”
Specter, who co-sponsored the EFCA legislation last session and even voted for cloture to pass it, made unconvincing noises about this not being a good time to pass EFCA, cuz, you know, the recession and all. As Christopher Hayes put it in his article “Specter Stabs Unions in the Back” in The Nation, “what really happened is he got metaphorically waterboarded by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.” And don’t be too shocked if he gets some lucrative board seats and corporate speaking engagements down the road.
Sure, we would have liked to have Specter’s vote. After giving him due credit for supporting the stimulus legislation, one welcome aspect of his decision is that it adds clarity to the Democratic Party’s priorities in 2010. No more molly-coddling centrist Republicans who cave in on the big worker rights issues. And electing a Democrat to replace Specter in ’10 is our new Job One. This we should do, not only to get to 60, but also to show potential GOP allies that there is a price to be paid for switching sides.