Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonga

Monday, May 16, 2005

Specter, something informs me that our parting moment is at hand.

"Spectre," said Scrooge, "something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how. Tell me what man that was whom we saw lying dead?"

Just how prescient was Dickens, anyway? The spelling is different, but the sense is the same.

Last Friday's New York Times shook the earth with this relevation:

Republican Moderates in Senate Sense Pressures

Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote, "The unusual pact that permitted the nomination of John R. Bolton to go forward on Thursday without the support of a crucial Republican senator has exposed, in a very raw and public way, the extreme pressures facing Republican moderates in a Senate that is increasingly dominated by conservatives."

Stolberg's article cited White House pressure on Senator George Voinovich over the Bolton nomination, quoting Lincoln Chafee (who sounded just the teensiest bit whiny) as further testimony to the issue.

"Bolton is a perfect example of putting the moderates in an impossible situation," said Senator Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island Republican who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and who agonized publicly over Mr. Bolton for weeks. "It's a no-win. Either we don't support the president or we vote for a very unpopular pick to represent us at the United Nations."

Since when is a Senator's allegiance to his President, rather than to the Constitution and the best interests of his constituents? Didn't they teach civics at Andover? Maybe Chafee would have been better off with a public school education.

Stolberg noted that the few moderate Republicans in the Senate reflected the general state of the national picture, and continued:

But here in the Capitol, their numbers are so few, said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, that they quit having their weekly lunches about a year ago.

"Susan and I were there alone for so much of the time," Mr. Specter he said, referring to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, "we worked through all of our conversation and decided to disband."

Regarding Senator Frist's Nuclear Attack on Democrats, Stolberg wrote:

Mr. Specter is in a particularly tight spot. He is trying to remain neutral, but as Judiciary Committee chairman is expected to advocate for the nominees. John Breaux, a centrist Democrat who was in the Senate until last year, said defying party leaders could be especially risky for a committee chairman.

"They can put an awful lot of pressure on you," he said of the leaders. "They say, 'Look, you're a chairman because your party is in control, and you've got to be with the party.' So when you break with them, you have to be fast on foot to explain it."

Today Senator Specter shows us that he's ready to get serious with the footwork. In an Opinion piece for the New York Times, titled "Paying for Asbestos," Sen. Specter sides with Patrick Leahy against Dick Armey.

FOR over two decades, Congress has wrestled unsuccessfully with the difficult problem of asbestos. Now, with Congress about to produce legislation that will compensate Americans hurt by asbestos without clogging the courts and causing undue economic hardship, Dick Armey, a Republican and the former House majority leader, has led a huge and misleading advertising campaign to defeat the bill.

The bill, which Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and I introduced last month with broad bipartisan support, would use a $140 billion trust fund to pay asbestos victims in a no-fault program similar to workers' compensation. Workers exposed to asbestos would be paid based on severity of injuries without proving in court who would be liable under existing tort laws, eliminating the high costs of litigation. Unlike current law, under which those who have been exposed to asbestos may be compensated for potential future injuries, damages can be collected only on proof of existing harm. These and other provisions are the result of 40 bargaining sessions over the last two years among manufacturers, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., insurers and trial lawyers.

Uh-oh. Now he's really in trouble. His bill doesn't absolve asbestos-related businesses from responsibility, he acknowledges collaborating with Vice President Cheney's least-favorite Dem Sen, and he admits to --gasp-- having negotiated with labor unions and trial lawyers. Never mind that the trial lawyers and the labor unions have expressed their own unhappiness with the bill; the asbestos industry is not uniformly pleased.

Specter fights back against Armey.

What Mr. Armey didn't tell his radio listeners was that, as reported by the Washington newspaper Roll Call, the lobbying firm that he works for has received nearly $1 million from Equitas, a British insurer that has fought to stop this legislation. Posing as a disinterested spokesman on behalf of the public interest, Mr. Armey is instead just another paid lobbyist spreading disinformation.

What Mr. Specter didn't tell his readers is that Mr. Armey's lobbying firm is FreedomWorks, the successor organization to Citizens for a Sound Economy and Empower America. Citizens for a Sound Economy was founded by David and Charles Koch (who also co-founded the Cato Institute).

[By the way, our own Sen. Dr. Tom Coburn is featured on the FreedomWorks home page right now, with a link to an article titled, "Coburn to the Rescue!" , and subtitled "Stopping a Specter-backed asbestos trust fund."

I bet that FreedomWorks backers and Koch interests don't forget to fund Dr. Tom in his next election run!]

Some of us thought that Senator Specter sold his pro-choice soul last fall in exchange for the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When, in February, Specter announced his diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease, I wondered if the cancer would compromise his remaining strength.

By the evidence of his op-ed piece today, I think that he is back in the fight. I also think that the Republican party majority will not look to him for solidarity on the senate floor. Conversely, Specter--even if his health permits the a run at re-election in 2010-- may be politically dead to the Republican party long before the campaign.

Scrooge said to the Spirit, "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."

Dickens wrote of the spectre: "The Spirit was immovable as ever."