Why should Pennsylvania Republicans oust Arlen Specter from the Senate? Because he carries water for the absolute worst of the Senate Democrats.
I saw this firsthand back in 1995 when on the payroll of the House Appropriations Committee back when Republicans were actually cutting domestic discretionary spending. The scene was one of the ornate conference rooms in the U.S. Capitol. The subject was one of those endlessly contentious conference-committee negotiations over a domestic appropriations bill. If memory serves, the bill included spending for energy and water projects.
Most who follow politics know that Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is one of the most partisan and liberal Democrats in all of Congress (and also one of the crudest). He delights at times in using profanities on the stump, and he never misses an opportunity to portray conservatives not merely as wrong on solutions to problems but virtually evil in intent. To listen to Harkin, conservatives don’t merely misunderstand the needs of the poor, we delight in causing them to suffer.
So there were the negotiations going full-bore, and there was Harkin looking at his watch, and then there was Harkin tapping Specter on the shoulder and pulling him aside. Two minutes of very friendly conversation later, after (quite literally) a chummy backslap or two, Harkin left for some other engagement, and Specter returned to the table. A few minutes later, Specter moved to insert (or to block the deletion of; I don’t remember which) some egregious pork project for Iowa–I think I remember it being a water project–that, in a year where GOP appropriators were assiduously fighting special earmarked projects, stood out (at least to me) like a thumb sore from plugging a dike. Lots of grumbles ensued. But Specter pushed back his chair as if to exit the room. No project for Harkin, no deal–even though Republicans controlled majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Compromises get made in Congress all the time, of course, and projects slip in under the radar. Ronald Reagan traded some sugar subsidies to Louisiana Sen. John Breaux in return for a crucial tax-cutting vote, and the trade was well worth the effort. But Specter’s favor for Harkin seemed made not in pursuit of any broader ideal, not for any greater good, but just because porkers watch out for each other.
Specter being famously bullheaded, his obstinacy won the day. Tom Harkin, bane of conservatives, got his project when all other earmarks were falling by the wayside.
That’s just one more reason why it’s long past time to pull the plug on Arlen Specter’s Senate career, by unleashing a flood of votes for Pat Toomey.
–Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer and columnist for the Mobile Register.