Palm Beach, Florida — Sen. Arlen Specter’s support for the 1,071-page Obama-Pelosi-Reid “stimulus” package will cost taxpayers $787 billion. That vote may cost the Pennsylvania Republican his job.
“I am very likely to make a run for the Senate,” says Pat Toomey, a former Keystone State congressman and free-market stalwart. “Specter’s vote was a profound betrayal of the Republican Party and conservative principles. It’s a big factor” behind Toomey’s potential challenge to Specter in 2010’s Republican Senate primary.
This rematch would pit Toomey, 47, against Specter, 79, seeking his sixth-consecutive Senate term. Buoyed by conservative irritation with Specter’s barely Republican, big-government record, Toomey came within two percentage points of retiring Specter in 2004. But Specter prevailed, thanks to the support of GOP establishmentarians and the incumbent-loving, Republican-lite Bush political team.
For Specter, loyalty flows uphill. While top Republicans back him in tight races, he typically joins Democrats when the GOP desperately needs him. Exhibit A: Specter’s February 13 “stimulus” vote, which will cost more than $1 trillion after interest payments are slathered atop its $787 billion budget.
“This stimulus bill is such a really outrageous lurch to the left by the federal government,” Toomey tells me. “It’s not just a trillion dollars in spending. It is a huge expansion of government, undermining welfare reform, and staggering amounts of money to be borrowed. All of this could have been blocked. When the House Republicans voted this down, they empowered the Senate Republicans to demand real pro-growth tax cuts, less spending, and less of this terrible, liberal policy. President Obama would have had to agree, because he would have had no bill in the face of united Republican opposition. Instead, these three — Specter plus Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine — capitulated.”
For many Republicans, Specter’s vote for this pork-encrusted, incentive-challenged boondoggle was the final insult. “In a two-person race, Specter is toast,” James Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His late-February survey of 700 registered Pennsylvania voters found that 53 percent want a “new person” as senator. So do 66 percent of Republicans. (Margin of error: 5.9 percent.)