- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

LONELY MAN

Republican-turned-Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter “is now a man without a country,” David Paul Kuhn writes at www.realclearpolitics.com.

“His old side views him as a traitor. His new side is skeptical of the longtime adversary turned ally. The episode has left him politically weakened and embarrassed,” Mr. Kuhn said.

“The president and the majority leader are chastised as well. Barack Obama talked like Lyndon Johnson as he backed Specter, only for Democratic senators to revolt and leave this president painted as no master of the Senate. [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid appears weaker for failing to deliver the political spoils he promised his recruit.

“Even liberal bete noire Joe Lieberman escaped the Specter treatment. Lieberman sided with Republicans on the most controversial issue of the Bush era, the war in Iraq. He vocally backed Republican John McCain in the 2008 campaign. Yet Lieberman kept his seniority.

“Today, Specter has gone from ranking Republican to the lowest Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Poignantly, Specter will be the last senator to interview Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.

“And what of that 60th vote? Specter, as the moderate Republican, faced pressure to vote somewhat with the GOP to prove his loyalty. As a Democrat, that pressure was to be reversed.

“But Democrats have humiliated Specter. Specter could respond by withholding the 60th vote on the key legislation. Obama never would have agreed to Specter’s switch if the president had not viewed some bills as urgent. After all, a new Democrat could have come in 2010.

“That’s the irony of Specter. Specter’s defection was, he admitted, rooted in political survival. Republicans had turned against him. He could not win a GOP primary. Now, in moving to Democrats to survive, Democrats have turned against Specter.”

THE MIDDLE

“So, Arlen Specter is now a Democrat. That’s old news. But with all the media attention focused on the short-term effects of Specter’s midnight conversion - thus likely giving Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate - commentators have missed the long-range (and more significant) consequences,” Steven Stark writes in the Boston Phoenix.

“Specter’s action emboldens the rise of an energized ‘middle’ in American politics. That could be the catalyst, over time, for a new significant political movement - or even the formation of a new political party,” Mr. Stark said.

“Those with short memories have undoubtedly forgotten that, several years ago, Democrat Joe Lieberman made a similar move, leaving his party so that he could retain his Senate seat. (Lieberman became an independent, eventually turning his back on the Democrats to the point that he supported the opposition’s candidate for president, John McCain.) …

“But Lieberman and Specter are not alone; they are joined by an informal group of about 20 senators, roughly split between Republicans (like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and George Voinovich ) and Democrats (like Mary Landrieu, Max Baucus and Ben Nelson), who feel out of place with the activism of their respective parties. The moderate Republican senators rejected much of President George W. Bush’s right-wing cultural agenda. The moderate Democrats in the Senate have supported much of Obama’s economic activism, but they are far less comfortable with his proposed tax-code revisions, carbon taxes and health care reform.

“Expect these ‘moderates’ to begin to work together as an informal force in the Senate. They - not Republican or Democratic leaders - will control what happens to Obama’s domestic agenda in the next few years.”

CONRAD’S VOTE

“A disapproving letter from Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad is one of those things that makes life worth living, and so we’re happy to give the North Dakotan a megaphone. All the more so since Mr. Conrad is making our point,” the Wall Street Journal said Thursday in an editorial.

“We noted in a recent editorial that Sen. Conrad was the deciding vote in a House-Senate conference to allow Democrats to pass a new $1 trillion-plus health care entitlement with a mere Senate 51 votes. This, despite the fact the senator had previously decried this ‘reconciliation’ process - which allows Democrats to avoid a filibuster - as an abuse of Senate precedent. Mr. Conrad suggests we are now being selective in our criticism of that process.

“But as the senator well knows, reconciliation has been used frequently on annual budget bills by Democrats and Republicans, and we haven’t objected in either case. Our objection now is that reconciliation has never before been used to ram through such a momentous policy change as turning 17 percent of the economy over to government hands. Mr. Conrad admits in his letter that the only ‘intended purpose’ of reconciliation is to ‘reduce deficits’ and that ‘it is ill-suited for considering major policy reforms.’ Which again raises the question of why he voted for it,” the newspaper said.

“As for Mr. Conrad’s insistence that reconciliation will also be used for ‘deficit reduction,’ we can only smile. So far this year, the self-described deficit hawk has voted for a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion increase in children’s health insurance, a $410 billion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2009 and a $3.5 trillion 2010 budget outline. The only way to reconcile all of that is with a whopping tax increase, which is how the senator has always defined ‘deficit reduction.’ ”

TAX HAVENS

“President Obama this week began cracking down big- time on tax havens - and he’s enlisted Rep. Charles Rangel to help,” Meghan Clyne writes in the New York Post.

“Will this dynamic duo be swift and fair in meting out tax justice? It shouldn’t take long to find out: After all, if Rangel and Obama are looking for culprits, they can begin in their own offices,” the writer said.

“Start with Harlem’s favorite Democrat, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. As the Post noted in an editorial [Wednesday], Rangel has dodged his tax liabilities on his Dominican villa and helped save friends taxes in exchange for a school bearing his name.

“But the fattest chapter in the ‘Annals of Rangel Tax Scams’ covers his efforts on behalf of tax dodgers in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The islands aren’t a ‘tax haven’ in the strictest sense - but they offer many benefits of offshore tax jurisdictions.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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