Friday, May 1, 2009

Catching Up on the News

I'll write a bigger blog this weekend, but wanted to catch up a little on the news, since I missed covering a few big issues due to my 100 Days retrospective.

The Saga of Arlen Specter

I have made it no secret in the past that I have been a fan of Senator Arlen Specter's. For many years, he represented the contingent of moderate, reasonable Republicans, the kind who dominated Northeast politics in the 1980s. His name, for me, brought back recollection of a time that I voted for Republicans, when guys like Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and Gov. William Weld (R-MA) had a voice at the table at least as much as the christian right. So, it is with sadness that I see Sen. Specter move to the Democratic party.

It's certainly not that I dislike Democrats. I voted for President Barack Obama, as well as the previous two Democratic Presidential nominees. In fact, in the past decade, I've voted for far more Democrats than Republicans. Which is precisely the problem.

See, it used to be that there was a legitimate competition for my vote. These days, it seems all too often, that to get a nomination, a Republican most bow down to the elements of the party that advocate social and foreign policies that rule them out for my vote. Sen. Specter was a representative of what used to be, back in the days of Ronald Reagan's big tent. Now he is just another moderate Democrat.

As for the actual reasons for his sudden conversion, it was political survival, pure and simple. Senator Specter was going to be unseated in the primary by Pat Toomey and saw a way to survive for another term by changing parties. He regrettably showed a great deal of hypocricy by just three short weeks ago playing up the importance of Republicans having 41 Senators as a check against Democratic power, then making the change. But the fact that Toomey was going to easily unseat him is just the problem. There is no room for moderates anymore, it seems, in the GOP. 4 years ago, Specter could narrowly fend off Toomey, but no more, he was headed towards a 25 point defeat in the smaller, little tent GOP.

As for the political ramifications of this move, they are far smaller than advertised. Specter voted for the stimulus when he was a Republican and voted against the President's budget after the switch. He is still the same moderate -- he will support the Democratic agenda when he agrees with it and will oppose it when he disagrees. And if history is any indicator, that's about 50/50. So the Democrats will have the same capability to break fillibusters that they had before -- they will still have to convince moderates to come along. Those moderates may be Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson or Specter or the last two old school Republican moderates, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins.

Swine Flu
Seasonal flus kill a quarter of a million people each and every year. Less than 200 have died from swine flu. Does anybody else think that this is just a by-product of a 24 hour hyper-emotionalized news cycle?

Unfortunately, the economic impacts could be very real. It could slow travel, tourism and consumer spending if it keeps people at home. Fortunately, I believe that the recovery is happening fast enough that this will be a blip on the radar.

I suspect three months from now, we will laugh at how small this thing turned out to be.

Souter Steps Down
Supreme Court Justice David Souter will retire in June, creating the first opening for the Obama Administration to fill. This presents wonderful opportunities for the President to break new ground -- I personally think we are very overdue for a Hispanic justice.

It is unlikely that the President's pick will significantly change the ideological composition of the court. Souter was liberal-leaning, despite being appointed by George H.W. Bush. One would expect his replacement will be of similar philosophy.

Can We Get a Refund on the VP?
Really, Joe? Don't travel? Can this guy open his mouth without a gaffe? He was nothing but trouble on the campaign and it seems he's hell bent on keeping the streak going.

Can't we find him some government efficiency study to go do in a quiet office somwhere?

Stimulus Spending Update
As of this week:
Allocated: $73.173 billion (14.7%)
Spent: $15.387 billion (3.1%)

Get spending!

Site Update
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Next up: Update on the House and Senate races

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