- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The only immediate effect of Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat was to boost the number of Democrats who oppose some of President Obama’s chief goals.

Mr. Specter’s independent streak, coupled with regional politics, will still leave Democrats struggling to amass the 60 votes needed to pass bills on global warming, health care and immigration or to push through controversial nominees.

As if to underscore the point, Mr. Specter used his defection news conference to announce he will oppose Dawn Johnson, Mr. Obama’s pick to run the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, and said he would still vote against Democrats’ efforts to pass card check, a bill that would make it easier to organize unions, and said he opposes using fast-track rules to overhaul health care.

“I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote,” Mr. Specter said. “If the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not hesitate to disagree and vote my independent thinking and what I consider as a matter of conscience to be in the interest of the state and nation.”

In the Senate, controversial measures generally have to garner 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Democrats were left with 58 senators’ support after the 2008 election, with one race in Minnesota still in doubt but leaning their way.

Mr. Specter’s change would put them on the verge of meeting that magical 60-vote threshold.

For Republicans, the numbers are stark, but they expect it only to matter on votes where party discipline is paramount.

“A lot of credence was given to the fact of having 41, and now that has changed,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.

“But I think that there are issues, and then there are issues,” he said. “There are the smaller issues that sort of divide us, and we’re able to hold together on 41 over something that’s important but not going to change the dynamics of our country, and then there are the things like negotiating health care reform that is major. We would never have a 41-vote deal on something major like that anyway.”

Democrats also seemed resigned to getting a little smoother path, but no major breakthroughs.

“It just means that we may have fewer filibusters,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who as majority whip is in charge of counting votes.

Mr. Specter has fought with fellow Republicans on a number of issues throughout the years, including most recently on the stimulus spending bill, where he was one of three Republicans to vote for the measure.

Now, that same independent streak may become a problem for his new party, as senators across the political spectrum said they don’t expect Mr. Specter to change positions on long-held beliefs.

“He hasn’t suddenly come into the Senate - he’s been a voting member of the Senate for some period of time, so you’ll have to assume that he’ll continue to vote the way he’s voted,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, who nevertheless said he welcomed his new caucus colleague.

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