Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Casey: Sestak would be "very competitive" vs. Specter in primary

From the WhoRunsGov Plum Line blog -- reporting on a recent public radio interview:

Here’s what Casey said:
“If Congressman Sestak runs, the next option is to have a primary that’s not … divisive and acrimonious so that we have a split in the party going in to the general election. That’s my hope.
But he’s a very strong candidate and if he runs it’ll be a very, very competitive primary.”

That’s the first acknowledgment from one of Specter’s Dem establishment supporters of the challenge Sestak poses, and could give a boost to Sestak by helping with fundraising and persuading insiders that his candidacy is real.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

OUCH. United Steelworkers un-invite Specter, cheer Sestak. Why? Employee Free Choice.

Chris Bowers at Open Left has an interesting post up today. He says Specter was invited in Feb. to speak at the United Steelworkers' legislative conference, but the rank and file said NO when they found out, so he was un-invited. Sestak spoke Sunday and was greeted with a "rousing ovation."

In the comments at DailyKos, Mr. Savage posts a 9-point version of what he has to say about this, including:

8. Specter sent a whiny-ass letter to be read to the delegates, which was greeted with jeers.

(Warning: point 9 uses the F-bomb.)

Beats me why Senator Specter hasn't gotten on board with Employee Free Choice yet. Every day he waits hurts him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Specter Comes Out for Public Option

OK, give the senator credit where credit is due. Via PoliticsPA, June 22:

Specter said he supports Sen. Charles Schumer’s health care reform proposal, which includes a public health plan, the central part of Democratic reform efforts. Specter, who initially wavered on his support of the public option after switching parties, touted Schumer’s plan to make the government-backed insurance subject to the same rules as private insurers.

Now, what about the Employee Free Choice Act?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poll: PA Dems who know both pick Sestak 52-44

Wow. Among PA Dems know who both Sestak & Specter are, Sestak leads 52-44.

As Chris Bowers says at the post linked above, claims "that Sestak has no chance are unmasked as either absurd or desperate. Sestak is already winning among Democrats who know both candidates."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Um Yeah, About That Anti-EFCA Pa. Poll...

I hope all the media that report the results of the new anti-Employee Free Choice Act poll of Pennsylvanians ALSO report who paid for it, and how biased the questions were. It was paid for by "Citizens to Protect PA Jobs, a coalition of pro-business groups and citizens." (Questions from the PDF at Pa2010.com)

"Q1. The U.S. Congress is currently debating passage of a new law called the Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as “card check” which effectively ends the ability of employees to hold private ballot elections by allowing employees to more easily form a union if union organizers can get a majority of workers to simply sign cards saying they want to unionize. By signing these cards employees’ signatures would then be made public. Generally speaking, have you recently seen, read or heard anything about this issue?
Q2. Again, this legislation effectively ends the ability of employees to hold private ballot elections by allowing employees to more easily form a union if union organizers can get a majority of workers to simply sign cards saying they want to unionize. By signing these cards employees’ signatures would then be made public. Generally speaking, do you favor or oppose passage of this Employee Free Choice Act or “card check” legislation?
Q3. As you may or may not know, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter recently stated publicly that he is opposed to this bill because it violates the long-standing tradition of the private ballot and will lead to more job losses in this recession due to the additional burden on employers. Do you agree or disagree with his position?"

And here's the truth about EFCA and secret ballots, from the AFL-CIO's Q&A about the bill:

Does the Employee Free Choice Act take away so-called secret ballot elections?
No. If one-third of workers want to have an NLRB election at their workplace, they can still ask the federal government to hold an election. The Employee Free Choice Act simply gives them another option—majority sign-up.
“Elections” may sound like the most democratic approach, but the NLRB process is nothing like democratic elections in our society—presidential elections, for example—because one side has all the power. The employer controls the voters’ paychecks and livelihood, has unlimited access to speak against the union in the workplace while restricting pro-union speech and has the freedom to intimidate and coerce the voters.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Frank: It Would Be Reasonable For Dems To Challenge Specter

(via TPM) Congressman Barney Frank tells GQ about Specter, "there's an erratic behavior pattern there that's very troubling. I think at this point it's entirely reasonable for some Democrats to think about challenging him."

Other interesting comments in the article too.

NY Times' Al Hunt isn't impressed by what Dems seem to be getting from recently switched Sen. Specter -- says Dems got "snookered" by Specter -- and quotes a prominent Pa. pundit:

“The Democrats could have gotten a 100 percent Obama Democrat,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “Instead, they’ll have a 50 percent Obama Democrat, which is the best Specter will be.”

TPM's Josh Marshall cuts through industry spin against public option

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall: Public option only a 'threat' to private health insurance if it's better

More Marshall on public option: lower premiums, lower administrative costs, no need to produce profits -- "these 'problems' sound remarkably like 'the point' of the whole exercise."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Krugman and doctors' study make case for public option

NY Times' Krugman Thursday on health care reform: "Don’t trust the insurance industry." Says we need public option to keep them honest.

Report from Thursday (Amer. Journal of Medicine via Reuters): Medical bills involved in over 60% of U.S. personal bankruptcies; over 75% of these bankrupt families had health "insurance" but "still were overwhelmed by their medical debts." (The study's authors support single-payer, which pretty much everyone says won't happen this year, but public option can and should.)

Specter won't commit to Sotomayor; Paper: Fire Mary Beth Buchanan already

Politico: Specter won't commit to Sotomayor (Sheesh.)

Pa2010 analysis: Voting now a high-stakes proposition for Specter; Campisi: the primary race is a Dem of necessity vs. a Dem by choice

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial Thursday: Mr. President, time to fire Bush U.S. Attorney Buchanan already. (Amen to that!) (What IS Buchanan still doing there? Plenty of reason to remove her, and the Obama admin. replaced the interim U.S. attorney in Philly district already.)

As the P-G says:
Many Pittsburghers pleaded with her to stop wasting any more time and public resources on this case -- among them, this newspaper, its readers and 31 prominent local residents who signed an open, bipartisan letter to her. Among the signatories were fellow Republicans including Elsie Hillman, Melissa Hart and Jim Roddey.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Health care: Obama re-emphasizes he wants public option included

You can read the full text of today's letter from President Obama to Congress at this page on the White House site.

Jonathan Cohn has an interesting take on it at the New Republic's "The Treatment" health care blog.

Karen Tumulty's take at Time's "Swampland" blog is also worth a read.

In related news, the New York Times reported today that (surprise) the health insurance industry is balking at including the small business market in health care reform:

In other words, policy analysts and others say, unless the insurance industry is willing to give some of the same ground to small businesses that they have ceded to individual policy holders, a big part of what is wrong with the nation’s health care system may not get fixed.
More than 40 percent of the private American labor force works for companies with fewer than 100 workers. Leaving small businesses out of the federal effort to overhaul health care would be “a big hole in any reform proposal,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group that advocates significant changes to the current system.

As the president re-emphasized today, for-profit insurers need real competition from a public plan. Otherwise that kind of nonsense will continue.

'Specter Scorecard' Site Launched to Track Key Post-Switch Votes

Several progressive groups have started up a site to track Specter's key post-switch votes:

Specter Scorecard will do two things:
We'll keep you informed about key upcoming votes where Sen. Specter's vote will be vital to the success of the progressive position. We'll give you accurate information about the issue and we'll provide you with the opportunity to take action to help persuade Arlen to do the right thing.
We'll let you know how Sen. Specter has voted on important progressive issues since he made the switch. We'll display his "progressive batting average" and keep it updated when he takes votes on those issues.

Right now, they're rating his "batting average" at .500 -- bad vote on the Obama budget, good vote on confirming Kathleen Sebelius as HHS secretary.

Roll Call: Labor Has Tough Choice in Pennsylvania

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, has an article today titled Labor Has Tough Choice in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George, a longtime ally of Specter’s, has seen his organization support the Senator in his last three re-election campaigns. But this time around, George was hesitant to predict whether the AFL-CIO would back Specter in 2010.
“He did give us the vote two years ago, and our rank and file don’t know why he can’t give us the vote now, when it’s exactly the same bill,” George said. “And I can’t explain it to our members.”
The AFL-CIO, with 900,000 members, is the most powerful union in the state, and the vast majority of its ranks are Democrats. Specter earned a 61 percent lifetime voting record from the national AFL-CIO, while Sestak earned a 96 percent rating. ...
Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said he has Specter’s personal assurance that he is working every day with his colleagues to develop some compromise language for EFCA. After all, Rooney pointed out, Specter isn’t the only Democrat who has said he is inclined to vote against the current version of EFCA.
“I know firsthand from Sen. Specter that he has been working daily over the past few weeks to come to compromise language to be able to get 60 votes to survive a filibuster,” Rooney said. “I can’t think of anybody better to bring about a resolution, especially among other Senators who have concerns.”

ALSO: Tom Ferrick at Pa2010 says Specter should be worried about Sestak and that Sestak has a real shot.

More reasons we need public option in health care

From Saturday's New York Times, here's more evidence why we need a public insurance option in health care reform, to keep the insurance companies honest and provide real competition for them --
IS your medical insurance bad for your health? If you have a high-deductible plan, the answer may be yes.
The investment firm Fidelity recently surveyed employees at various companies who had opted for a high-deductible health plan linked to a health savings account. About half of those workers said they or a family member had chosen not to seek medical care for minor ailments as many as four times in the last year to avoid paying the out-of-pocket expenses.
As any doctor will tell you, small health problems left untreated can become big problems, warns Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the health care advocacy group Families USA. “This is just one of the many high-deductible pitfalls consumers need to watch out for,” Ms. Stoll said. ...
low-income families don’t benefit from the tax breaks associated with health savings accounts the way middle- and high-income earners do.
Even if you can afford the costs, the loopholes that insurers often weave into these plans to reduce premiums can mean that even after your deductible is met, you may not have the coverage you need to handle a serious illness or accident.

The article goes on to describe other charming features like caps on lifetime coverage, caps on doctor visits, and this beaut - caps on hospitalization costs -- for example:

Mr. Claxton has seen policies that so severely restrict hospitalization that they will not pay for the first day you are admitted. “That’s the day when you’re most likely to have the most costs,” he said. “Think of it: You’re admitted to the E.R., you have surgery and you spend the night in the I.C.U., and none of it is covered.”

As I've blogged about before, including competition from a public option (think Medicare for people under 65) is one of the biggest things we can do to rein in out-of-control health care cost inflation. And it would actually COVER people. What a concept!

In Senate race punditry, Pa. pundits Madonna and Young give their take on Sestak running for Senate.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sestak says Obama can’t talk him out of a Senate run

(h/t Pa2010) Sestak says Obama can’t talk him out of a Senate run:

Sestak also said that he wouldn’t back off even if the major unions reached a deal with Specter on health care and on the Employee Free Choice Act and endorsed Specter in the primary.... Sestak added that even if he didn’t get the big unions, he’d still corral some labor support.

“My belief is that there will be a number of unions that still wouldn’t be for Arlen,” he said. ....And in an ironic twist, Sestak also revealed that a few months ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election — and that it showed Sestak winning.

Wash Post analyst: Poll should provoke 'outright alarm' for Specter; Pa. analyst: Sestak will need $10 million for primary

(h/t P-G Early Returns) Washington Post's Cillizza: at this early stage of the race, poll should provoke "outright alarm" for Specter

Pundit Madonna: Primary no ‘cakewalk’ for Specter, Sestak will need $10 million for primary (at last report, he had $3 million)

Op-ed by Tony Campisi, 1st vice chair of the Delaware County Dem Party (Sestak's district): Unlike Specter, Sestak stands for something

Worth noting - the Obama fundraiser in L.A. that Specter attended was for the Democratic National Committee -- *not* for Specter. Yes, Specter will probably reap some good fundraising contacts from having been there, but the $3 million fundraiser itself was *not* for him.

Sestak leaves a SMALL doubt about Senate run

From Post-Gazette Early Returns transcript of Sestak appearance on CNN:

"Wolf, I personally have made a decision that I intend to get in this race with one other item. I haven't sat down and had the time to sit down with my 8-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in.

And I say that, if you don't mind, because when I got in this after getting out of the military 31 years in the first race two years ago, my daughter had a brain tumor. And we needed to make sure we were getting in this to pay back for this great health care we have been given, together, as a unit. And so that's where the final decision will be made, with us as a nuclear family."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New poll shows Sestak in better position

(h/t Pa2010) The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports on a new poll:

New Poll Shows Specter Support Soft: A new survey of Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters funded by a labor-aligned 527 group shows that while Sen. Arlen Specter starts any primary race as a favorite, there is significant weakness in his numbers. Specter leads Rep. Joe Sestak, who continues to mull a primary bid, 55 percent to 34 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted for Citizens for Strength and Security by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. But, not only is Sestak known by just three in ten Democrats in the state (suggesting room for real growth), many Democrats are taking a wait and see approach to Specter. ....

Organized labor, which provided nearly all of the funding for Citizens for Strength and Security during the 2008 election, remains skeptical about Specter due to his stated opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. With a re-written version of that bill expected in the next month or two, this poll is meant as a warning to the newest Democrat that straying too far from party orthodoxy could cost him dearly.

TPM Scoop: Sestak's Running

Talking Points Memo has the scoop:

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is privately telling supporters that he intends to run for Senate, TPMDC has confirmed.
"He intends to get in the race," says Meg Infantino, the Congressman's sister, who works at Sestak for Congress. "In the not too distant future, he will sit down with his wife and daughter to make the final decision." ...
Earlier today, a Sestak volunteer and contributor received a handwritten note from Sestak himself, announcing his intent to run and asking for a contribution. The source provided TPMDC a scan of the letter....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Specter's Seniority: the Lautenberg precedent is bad; Stabenow says 'this is midstream'

Politico has a new article today about Sen. Specter's seniority and potential party-switchers. (Yep, I focus on the seniority issue a lot, because it equals POWER and ability to bring home bacon.)

Some key excerpts:

Asked last week if he would have switched parties if he knew that he would lose his seniority, Specter smiled slyly and said only: “Well, I think we’ll get that straightened out.”
If he wins a sixth term next year, Specter remains confident he will win back his seniority at the start of the 112th Congress, but there are no guarantees when the Democratic Caucus debates the issue after the November 2010 elections. ...
senior Democrats insist this won’t be a problem in the future. They said Specter’s case was unique, given that he switched parties in the middle of a Congress strictly to preserve his chance at winning reelection next year — unlike the case of Shelby and other party defectors who switched before the start of a new Congress, enabling them to be part of the usual seniority shuffle when a new session begins.
“This is midstream,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, which advises Reid on committee assignments. “The real question will come up in the next Congress.” ...
And Specter’s case is not the first time a senior member of the Senate has lost his seniority. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) returned to the Senate after the 2002 elections — after retiring from a 19-year career in the Senate following the 2000 elections. Lautenberg tried in vain to have all his years of service counted so he could rejoin committees at a very senior level, and he was denied.

Also newsworthy today:

Sen. Specter supports Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Sen. Specter officially switched his party registration.

Sestak: 'Odds are great' he will run

Sestak fans, you may get your wish, according to what he told the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend:

Sestak said he was "leaning very much toward getting in" the race... Sestak said he would make up his mind in the next couple of months, adding that "odds are great" he will opt to run. ..."Arlen's a good guy and he's done good things in the past, but I'm not sure he's the one to bring about change," Sestak said yesterday. "I can't see how someone who's been opposed to some of these policies can be relied upon to carry them out" through 2016.

WITF public radio in Harrisburg covers Young Philly Politics' Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg wanting Sestak to get in.

Meanwhile, Sen. Specter's only declared Democratic opponent gets what Pa2010 calls a "fawning" profile in CQ. (At this writing, CQ hasn't corrected what I emailed them about this morning -- that PA has 203 state House districts, not 151.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Politico: Pa. Dems slow to accept Specter

Interesting article at Politico today: Pa. Dems slow to accept Specter

Some excerpts:

But if Allegheny County is in any way representative of the rest of the state, Specter will have his work cut out persuading rank-and-file Democrats to get behind him.
“Voters have to get to a comfort level with him as a Democrat that does not exist yet,” Burn said. “If the primary were tomorrow and there were one or two other formidable contenders in the race, I wouldn’t say with any certainty that he would win.”
Evidence of that uncertainty surfaced after a recent Specter event at a downtown Philadelphia law firm. Stephanie Singer, a local ward leader there, said that after watching Specter take questions from some of the roughly 40 people who attended, she still had a question of her own. ...
“I asked him whether he was proud of the way he had questioned Anita Hill,” Singer said. “I was curious to know if he had really learned anything about what that issue is and why it makes women so angry.”
Singer said that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with his response and that she had not been won over by Specter that night. ...
“There are people out there that he’s going to have to work a little,” Cordisco said. “There are some real true believers who think that [GOP Senate candidate Pat] Toomey could be beat by pretty much any Democrat.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More on Sestak's record; More Specter reaction; Psst - what about public option in health care?

First, from the Tribune-Review, more on Sestak's record and labor dissatisfaction with Specter:

Sestak, a former defense counterterrorism expert, sponsored legislation to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but voted against cutting appropriations as a way to end the war. And although he supported the bank bailout and the economic stimulus plan, he recently voted against bills limiting executive compensation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Sestak 60 percent on its issues in 2007, compared with 82 percent for Specter. The AFL-CIO gave Specter a 68 percent rating in 2007, and Sestak a 96 percent rating for his votes on organized labor's priorities.

The story also contains this:

Labor leaders are pressing Specter for his failure to support the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as card check. The legislation would have made it easier for labor unions to organize.
"Arlen drove labor's support away from himself over the last three or four weeks," said Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea. "The rank and file are mad, not only in Western Pennsylvania but also in Eastern Pennsylvania and Central Pennsylvania. They are upset."
Shea said it's too early to say which candidate organized labor would support, but that it would be a mistake to dismiss Sestak, who supports card check.
"I think his stock has risen since Specter came over to the D side, if for no other reason than he's getting a lot more play nationally. ... I think he's a strong candidate," Shea said.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports on Specter's visit to the Democratic Party's Philadelphia pre-election-day fundraiser. Apparently he was "warmly" received by many there. However, Tony Rhodin at the Easton Express-Times fired off a blast Monday night, titled "Arlen Specter not a Democrat, so why would Democrats vote for this Republican? Won't another Dem give us a choice?"

Interesting story at Politico about Specter's fundraising:
He has a lot of work ahead of him. He’s raised about $9 million for his reelection campaign next year and has about $7 million in the bank. Given the cost of recent Keystone State Senate races, he’ll need at least another $10 million and more if he winds up with a Democratic primary challenger, said Jennifer Duffy, an expert on Senate races at the Cook Political Report.

Speaking of fundraising, the organizers of the recent "Draft Sestak" online straw poll announced today the creation of a "Draft Sestak Fund" page on ActBlue.

Worth noting that there's also an ActBlue page for Joe Torsella (who has already announced for Senate).

Still waiting to hear from Congressman Sestak and Mr. Torsella where they stand on the hugely important question of including a public option in the universal health care bill, as President Obama wants. (Meanwhile, Sen. Specter recently hinted at a leftward shift on that crucial question.) More about public option here and here.

The Washington Post reports that a 2004 ad Santorum did for Specter ("Arlen is with us on the votes that matter") is making the rounds in D.C.

Specter hints at leftward shift on health care; Casey not slamming door on a primary

Doing a roundup tonight..

Daily Kos' take on Specter hinting at a leftward shift on health care -- looks like the pressure of a possible primary is starting to work.

(CNN) – Pennsylvania’s junior Sen. Bob Casey appeared to open the door Sunday for a possible challenger to Arlen Specter, the state’s senior senator and a newly-minted Democrat.

Post-Gazette Early Returns covers the results of the progressives' online SestakPoll:

Should U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak run against Arlen Specter in the Dem primary next year, he may have a good portion of the party's netroots behind him: in an online poll tied to major leftwing blogs DailyKos and Open Left, 86 percent of voters nationwide and 85 percent statewide said the formal Navy admiral should make a run against the incumbent. There were 7,501 votes cast nationwide and 949 in Pa.

Keystone Progress' latest email encourages Pennsylvanians to contact Sen. Specter and urge him to support the Senate version of the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights that passed the House 357-70 recently.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

(UPDATED) Feinstein, Specter compromises may pave the way for passage of Employee Free Choice Act

UPDATE: Skepticism is showing up in a DailyKos recommended diary today about how good this deal really is.

(h/t GrassrootsPA) Jane Hamsher says at Huffington Post:

New compromise measures supported by Dianne Feinstein and Arlen Specter may pave the way for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
With 900,000 union members in the state of Pennsylvania, the Arlen Specter firewall appears to be crumbling. He knows he can't win a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania without labor, and they have made it clear that their support is contingent on his vote on Employee Free Choice.

... As Harkin says, the Feinstein compromise has the advantage of "protecting the secret ballot, so people can do it in private," which neutralizes that particular right-wing criticism of the bill.
The other bone of contention has been arbitration clause of the Employee Free Choice Act. Specter himself supports "last best offer" arbitration. It's also called "baseball arbitration," and has incentives to get both parties to quickly make their best, most reasonable offer. Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO says "we're open to that."

Mystery solved? 'PrimaryArlenSpecter' site expands

Note that the posting (excerpted below) that's on DailyKos today doesn't actually say Evan Miller and his New Argument co-founder are responsible for the anonymous site, but it suggests that. (Here's my initial post about this, from Thursday.)

TAKE ACTION: Tell Specter to give cancer research money back!
by evandmiller [Subscribe]
Share this on Twitter - TAKE ACTION: Tell Specter to give cancer research money back!

Sat May 09, 2009 at 11:24:54 AM PDT
Adam Green did great work coining the term cancer-gate to describe Arlen Specter tricking the public into thinking they were funding cancer research when really they were funding his 2010 reelection campaign.
It seems that Specter will do anything to get reelected.
Join myself and Andrew Perez, founders of The New Argument in demanding that Specter give that money to its rightful recipients - an organization that actually works to advance medical research.
Sign the letter at CancerGate.PrimaryArlenSpecter.com.
While you there, go to PrimaryArlenSpecter.com to tell specter to support a public healthcare plan!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Health care - HHS secretary makes clear: It would be a public OPTION, not a takeover

From the Los Angeles Times:

Obama backs public and private healthcare insurance
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tells Congress that the administration wants to create a government-run program to encourage competition.
The Obama administration's senior healthcare official Wednesday flatly rejected the idea of taking overthe nation's medical insurance system, saying the federal government did not want to assume management of healthcare coverage....
Sebelius responded that states for years had offered their government employees a choice between a public insurance program and a private plan for healthcare coverage.
"It can work very effectively, and does work very effectively," she said, indicating that such arrangements could be a model for overhauling insurance markets nationally.

Also, from the Associated Press today:
Sources: Senators weigh 3 government health plans

President Barack Obama and many Democrats say a government option would serve as a check to keep the private insurance industry honest. ...

The three approaches being discussed are:
_Create a plan that resembles Medicare, administered by the Health and Human Services department.
_Adopt a Medicare-like plan, but pick an outside party to run it. That way government officials would not directly control the day-to-day operations.
_Leave it up to individual states to set up a public insurance plan for their residents.

And this part jumps out at me -- boldface added:

If the public plan were open to all employers and individuals — and if it paid doctors and hospitals the same as Medicare — it would quickly grow to 131 million members, while enrollment in private insurance plans would plummet, the study found.
By paying Medicare rates the government plan would be able to set premiums well below what private plans charge. Employers and individuals would rush to sign up.


And here's a quick check of where major Democratic PA Senate candidates or potential candidates stand on the public option:

Senator Specter: Opposed (for now)

Congressman Sestak: Reportedly 'unsure'

Joe Torsella: We're awaiting his response

MoveOn video: 'Tell Senator Specter to Side With Us, Not The Banks'

(h/t GrassrootsPA) You can see the video and read the script here.

Coverage of progressive interest in challenging Specter; Ridge declines to back Toomey

The Allentown Morning Call and WITF public radio from Harrisburg cover the growing progressive "Hey, wait a minute" and even "Draft Sestak" or "back Torsella" movements.

Tom Ridge declines to say if he'd vote for Toomey over Specter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Daily Kos poll of PA Senate race; Roundup of other developments

If you haven't seen it yet, Daily Kos commissioned a PA poll and two key findings are:

... only 37 percent of Democrats are definitely committed to Specter.

Specter (D) 55 Toomey (R) 31
Sestak (D) 37 Toomey (R) 32
Torsella (D) 35 Toomey (R) 33
Even the guys who no one has ever heard of are beating Toomey.

No wonder the White House is reportedly concerned.

You've probably also seen that Ridge decided not to run. Smart move.

One more "in case you missed it": Politico reports some are questioning the propriety of Sen. Specter's other campaign site that's named "Specter for the Cure." (Of course, cancer patients would also benefit from having a public option in health care.)

Several states have already passed laws like the Employee Free Choice Act and the sky hasn't fallen

Nathan Newman of TPMCafe and Progressive States Network reports that several states have already passed laws like the Employee Free Choice Act and the sky hasn't fallen -- including 4 of the 6 that border Pennsylvania. He concludes:

So you've got one system -- NLRB elections with a demonstrated history of massive, overwhelming employer abuse -- and another system -- majority signup operating in many states with no evidence of any of the abuses alleged by opponents. If it works in the states, why not bring its benefits to more employes?

Pa2010 reports today on rumors that Joe Torsella is resisting efforts to have him become head of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. His spokesman told Pa2010 Torsella's interest "is in running for U.S. Senate."

A New York Times article today has quotes from several senators (different ones from the ones in the Politico story), to this effect:
Several senators said they felt badly for Mr. Specter and several voiced compassion.

(Of course, that's not the same as saying, "Sure, we'll let you go ahead of us with your 29 years of Republican seniority.")

Dem senators cast doubt on Specter seniority restoration

Politico reports today:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) may not regain his three decades of seniority even if he wins his Senate seat as a Democrat, robbing him of a key argument he’s making in his 2010 reelection campaign.

The article has quotes from Sens. Durbin, Mikulski, Murray and Landrieu, among others, either saying some version of "not so fast, Sen. Specter" or "we'll see."

Yes, Sen. Specter is getting a Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship, and the Associated Press calls it a "plum" and "the Judiciary Committee's busiest subcommittee, responsible for legislation on drug sentencing."
On the other hand, Politico calls his subcommittee post "a minor consolation."

Here's my take: Judiciary isn't the committee that lets a senator bring home the bacon. Appropriations is. And as of now, he's still the least senior Dem on the Appropriations Committee.

And THIS, from the Politico story, is eyebrow-raising (and unlikely to help him with the other Democratic senators):

But Specter didn’t promise to vote with Democrats on all procedural votes, as Reid said he would on national television a day before. “I will talk to Sen. Reid about that,” Specter said.

Who's behind mystery 'PrimaryArlenSpecter' site that focuses on health care reform?

I received an e-mail today letting me know about a "Primary Arlen Specter" site that is collecting names and e-mails of people who support including a public option in health care reform. The site says the following:
When we reach 5,000 signatures, we will hand deliver this letter to the office of Senator Arlen Specter.

It doesn't say who's behind it. I ran a whois search, but the site's registration is private.

(Oh, and I've saved two screen captures of the page in case it were to disappear.)

(And I'm not anonymous -- see this post from yesterday. :-)

Phila. Daily News editorial outlines the case for public option in health care reform

Senator Specter and challengers, listen up! :-)

An editorial in today's Philadelphia Daily News does a good job making the case for a public option in health care reform:

So at the least, Americans should have a choice between private insurers and what has been dubbed a "public option" - a Medicare-style program or even something along the lines of the federal employees' insurance system, which is administered through private insurers but paid for by the government.
The key is to provide a program that doesn't divert significant amounts of premiums to CEO salaries, administrative costs, shareholder dividends - and financial incentives to deny you care.

It's fascinating to watch private insurers scramble to head off actual reform: Now, they promise, they will be good: They will no longer discriminate against people because of pre-existing conditions. They won't charge women higher premiums. Regulate us, they plead, just don't make us compete. But private insurers would have to be regulated in ways never seen before to repair the system. Competition might force changes no politician could.

Pgh. Post-Gazette Covers Specter Seniority Loss

Here are some key excerpts of the article from Thursday's Post-Gazette:

...the state's senior senator is at least temporarily last in Democratic seniority, blunting one of the chief arguments he planned to use in his quest for a record sixth term.
The arrangement threatens the influence that Mr. Specter had counted on wielding through his once-senior spots on powerful panels, including the judiciary and the appropriations committees.

"This raises a very real question for Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania, and that is, 'What does he have to offer?'" said Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Joe Torsella, the first declared challenger for the Democratic seat. "He has no seniority; he has a 75 percent voting record with [former President] George Bush."

At last night's Democratic Party dinner at the Westin Convention Center hotel, Downtown, Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, blistered Mr. Specter in a speech in which he predicted that the senator would suffer politically if he did not change his stance on the Employee Free Choice Act.

"Voters don't tend to focus on who's got what chairmanship," Mr. Sestak said, but he argued that a larger concern was whether Mr. Specter would prove to be a reliably Democratic voice in the longer term on issues such as health care and the economy.

The paper also says Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb "said seniority issues wouldn't influence his consideration of the race."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sestak Keeps Up 'Reliability' Drumbeat; More Reasons Ridge and Specter Early Leads Don't Mean Much

Sestak kept up his drumbeat on "'How reliable will (Specter) be?'" in interviews with CNN and Politico.

Good roundup from the Post-Gazette's Early Returns blog on what I consider to be more reasons not to buy the Ridge hype, even if he does run. (Example: The Republican base would just LOVE that he voted for the 1994 assault-weapons ban.)

Speaking of not buying hype or early polls, Chris Bowers said this yesterday:

Democratic primary: Republican polling out (of) Public Opinion Strategies shows Specter leading Sestak 57%-20% in the Democratic primary. While it may seem strange to hear me say this, these are not terrible numbers. This week will be the all-time peak for Specter's popularity among Pennsylvania Democrats. If 57% is the best he can do, without anyone really making the case against him from a Democratic perspective, then he is vulnerable.
Now, these are not great numbers for Sestak, either. While he would likely receive the lion's share of undecideds due to his low name ID, I had been hoping for him to be within 20% of Specter. Had that been the case, then he would have been virtually assured of victory in the event of a primary challenge. While these numbers show that he could potentially win, they also show it would be far from a slam dunk. The relative difficulty of this campaign versus winning re-election in the increasingly Democratic PA-07 might cause him to think twice about running statewide.

Seniority Shockwave and Getting Seniority Back Not a Sure Thing

OK, so I was tired when I put this in a roundup last night rather than giving it the "Holy crap!" treatment -- but Sen. Specter losing his seniority for the next 1 1/2 years -- and maybe not getting it back -- yikes, that's big.

One of his biggest selling points for the primary and the general election was going to be "I can bring home the bacon because I have almost 30 years of seniority." That ability was a major reason counties all over Western PA were scrambling to get even a sliver of their communities into Congressman Murtha's district during the last redistricting. (See the 12th District map here.)

At least one commentator today likened the situation to Specter being on probation. That seems like a good description.

But even if Specter does shape up, I wonder -- of the 58 Democratic senators who now outrank Specter in seniority -- if Specter returns for the 2011-12 session, how many of those more senior Democratic senators will be willing to let him claim part or all of his seniority from his time as a Republican?

Senator Specter is of course expressing confidence that he will get his seniority back.

I am not so sure. If he returns in 2011, there have already been hints that some Democratic senators will remember his work on the Judiciary Committee helping Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Scalito, er, Alito get on the Supreme Court.

Others will look at how high he would rank on the Appropriations Committee and think, "Hey, I want that money going to MY state." (And some would also recall how much money he's appropriated for ineffective "abstinence-only" sex education over the years.)

From a Politico article today, here's a sampling of what I mean:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of an Appropriations subcommittee who would have been passed over by the more senior Specter, said it would have been an unfair move.
"When you get to be a chairman you really have some control of that area, and that's what makes it interesting for me," Feinstein told POLITICO. "Somebody comes in on top - then everybody gets bumped. Then somebody gets bumped from the committee. That's a very hard thing if you've got 14 years having been on that committee. Obviously you'd like to stay where you are. I understand how people feel about it."
Feinstein said she's heard other members complain about Specter keeping his seniority too. "It's a concern and I think Sen. Specter will understand that."

You get the idea...

I Get Quoted Asking: What Are Dems Getting Out of Specter Switch?

Two nonpartisan PA politics sites interviewed me Monday and the coverage came out today.

Dan Hirschhorn at Pa2010 included a comment from me in a lengthy story today headlined "From the grassroots up, calls for a competitive Dem primary threaten to boil over":

...a grassroots infrastructure to hold Specter accountable to Democratic values—and perhaps eventually challenge him—has formed quickly. The Accountability Now PAC has been calling for a primary and laying the groundwork for helping to fund a challenger. At least two Facebook groups have been formed—”I support a real progressive against Arlen Specter” and “Keep Specter Honest.” And a Democratic activist has started Specter Watch, a blog that is closely monitoring the Senator’s every move.
“We’re talking about a state that President Obama won by 11 points,” said Ben Turner, who runs the blog. “This is not a state where you have to be timid if you’re a Democrat now. We know what the Republican base used to get out of [Specter]. They would get a year-and-a-half of votes from him before the primary. What is the Democratic Party going to get out of him?”

(Actually, the Republican base used to get more than that -- look at all the funding he brought to PA for "abstinence-only" sex education, to give one example.)

And Alex Roarty included this in today's PoliticsPA Daily Read:

PoliticsPA.com interviewed the founder of the blog Specter Watch, Ben Turner, on Monday. His bottom line: What does Specter support in the Democratic agenda?
“There's also the question of, ‘If he does support something now, how sure can we be a few weeks or months from now that he still will?’” Turner said in an interview over an instant messaging service. “He cosponsored EFCA, and then the Republican primary was approaching, so -- not. And now, stay tuned, I guess?”

(That instant messaging service, by the way, is Gmail Chat -- the address for me is specterwatch at gmail dot com.)

(UPDATED) - Is Agreement Near for Specter to (Re-)Support Employee Free Choice?

UPDATED: Talking Points Memo has a good roundup on Sen. Harkin and PA unions trying to get Specter to (re-)support the Employee Free Choice Act.

In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- two major labor leaders from PA have an op-ed today explaining why EFCA is needed -- under the headline "Free choice for all: Sen. Specter chose his affiliation; workers should be able to, as well" -- and they include this:
Mr. Specter has demonstrated time and time again he is capable of bold action. When he withdrew his support from the Employee Free Choice Act in March, he left the door open to supporting labor law reform. We invite him to boldly walk back through that door and join like-minded senators in his new political party and take part in fixing America's broken labor laws.

Major Blogs Running Straw Poll at SestakPoll.com.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC has put a site up for a straw poll of the Democratic "netroots" (that's short for Internet grassroots) on whether we should "draft" Sestak to run against Specter. Several major blogs are participating.

It's at www.SestakPoll.com. The site has some interesting point/counterpoints posted, including an insightful one from Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg — editor of Young Philly Politics.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Specter: 'I Misspoke' on Coleman vs. Franken

CQ Politics reports tonight:

..questioned outside the Senate chamber Tuesday, Specter said the comment was a mistake.
“In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates,” he said. “I’m ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I’ve made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke.”
Asked who he’s backing now in elections, Specter said, “I’m looking for more Democratic members. Nothing personal.”

OK, so what about the Jeff Sessions comments? Or the Anita Hill comment in the same NY Times article that contains the Coleman bit?

Tuesday Wrap-Up: Torsella Seeks to Build Coalition; Specter Seniority May Be Gone for 2009-10 Session; Kos, Dean and Carville Weigh In

From the Hill:

From Democrat(ic) Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Torsella's perspective, Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties hasn't changed the dynamic of the race very much and has provided an opportunity to capitalize on a group of Democrats that won't accept the Specter into the party.
Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Torsella, told the BBR the campaign was already preparing to take on Specter, now it is just having to move up its timetable.

The campaign, Nevins said, has heard from activist, or grassroots, Democrats who have encouraged Torsella to stay in the race.

From Daily Kos:
The founder of Kos said today that Specter is "just begging for that primary challenge" (based in large part on today's comments about Jeff Sessions) and also added in a separate post with some NSFW (maybe not-safe-for-work) language, "Keep it up Arlen, your Joe Lieberman impersonation is so spot-on, that we can't wait to take you on in the Democratic primary."

From Roll Call tonight: Specter Will Be Junior Democrat on Committees:
Despite promises from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that Sen. Arlen Specter would retain his seniority after switching parties, Specter will be put at the end of the seniority line on all his committees but one under a resolution expected to be passed on the floor late Tuesday.

From the Huffington Post: Dean, Carville Warn Specter: Shape Up Or Face Primary
"I'm pleased that he saw the light and decided he would be a better fit for the Democratic Party and I think you have to allow for his political views to evolve," said former DNC chairman Howard Dean in an interview with the Huffington Post. "But he won't win the Democratic primary by taking the position that you should not have [the Employee Free Choice Act] or a public option for health insurance... If he takes these kinds of views, of course there is going to be a Democratic primary."

Sestak Unsure on Public Option in Health Care Reform

This has the potential to be a BIG deal. From Talking Points Memo:

...there may not be much daylight between Specter and Sestak on at least one of these issues. Sestak says he's still unsure whether he supports a public health insurance option as an element of comprehensive health reform. He plans to discuss the issue further with SEIU president Andy Stern and others and come to a decision in the coming weeks, but if he ultimately comes down against that policy, he'll be in just about the same camp as his new rival, who came out against a public option over the weekend. Obviously that means less in the House (where Sestak serves) than it does in the Senate (where Specter potentially wields enormous influence), but no less a figure than Howard Dean has said that comprehensive health reform requires a public option.
Last night, Stern told ABC news that "[i]t is hard to imagine any union supporting a candidate in the Democratic Party for the US Senate who doesn't have strong positions on both healthcare and Employee Free Choice."...

Here's part of a Specter Watch post from Sunday about public option in health care reform:

This is one of the biggest issues of the year and a priority for President Obama (and it's good policy, too, by the way). Including competition from a public option (think Medicare for people under 65) is one of the biggest things we can do to rein in out-of-control health care cost inflation.

Why Ridge Shouldn't - and Might Not - Run

Some reasons why Tom Ridge would be better off not running:

1. Early poll numbers mean squat - they often just reflect name recognition (that includes self-serving polls that appear designed to lure him into the race)

2. Lives in Maryland now

3. Lobbyist stuff

4. 'Pro-choice' and 'moderate' labels are the kiss of death in a PA GOP primary these days

5. Signed the 1995 pay raise into law

You can read a lot more about these -- especially #2 and #3 -- at other sites, such as the conservative site GrassrootsPA (a -- maybe the -- home base for the Toomey fans).

Specter Foot-in-Mouth Watch: Anita Hill, Jeff Sessions, Norm Coleman

Would that be a better name for this site? (Kidding.)

But -- sheesh. I'll get to the Coleman thing after 2 things that strike me as even more troubling.

1. This Sunday's New York Times magazine will have a Q-and-A with Specter that includes this:

(Q:) Many women can never forgive you for your aggressive questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Do you regret your behavior?
(Specter:) No. When a serious charge is made like sexual harassment, the subject is entitled to question the accuser and find out the facts, and that’s what I did.

2. Politico reports Specter regrets his 'no' vote that helped keep far-right-winger Jeff Sessions out of a lifetime federal judgeship over questions about Sessions' race relations record:

Following his first lunch meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, Specter told reporters that out of the 10,000 votes he has cast, he can now recall one that he regrets.
“I don’t expect everybody to agree with all my votes, and I don’t agree with all my votes, either, at this point ... and I was asked the other day what vote I regretted, and I couldn’t think of one that I wanted to publicly state, but I’m prepared to do that now in response to your question,” Specter said. “My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake.”

(Comment: As opposed to Senator Specter's 'no' vote on Obama's budget last week after switching parties, or his 'no' vote last week on helping struggling homeowners...)

3. In the same NY Times piece, Specter says Minnesota loser Norm Coleman should be seated in the Senate (or will we be told soon that's a misquote like the "loyal Democrat" bit?):

(Q:) With your departure from the Republican Party, there are no more Jewish Republicans in the Senate. Do you care about that?
(Specter:) I sure do. There’s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.
(Q:) Which seems about as likely at this point as Jerry Seinfeld’s joining the Senate.
(Specter:) Well, it was about as likely as my becoming a Democrat.

Now earlier in the day, only the first Q and A had gotten out and not the Seinfeld Q and A that follows. So maybe that Coleman thing was a joke. Either way, Senator Specter needs to clear this up ASAP.

When was this interview given? Before he switched or after?

And in either case, will he put out a statement retracting his Coleman and/or Anita Hill comments? Not to mention, what is Pennsylvania's diverse Democratic electorate going to think of the Jeff Sessions and Anita Hill bits?

P-G's Tony Norman: Specter no shoo-in for Democrats

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman, for Tuesday's paper:

There are a whole lot of Democrats I'm inclined to support before tossing my vote away on a man who holds his nose whenever he talks about the Democratic Party.
To paraphrase Arlen Specter himself -- his change in party affiliation doesn't mean that registered Democrats are obligated to fall in line. If he can't vote for the Employee Free Choice Act or the bankruptcy reform bill without violating his conscience, there's no reason that he should be the party's nominee.

Monday, May 4, 2009

ABC: AFL-CIO's Trumka: Labor Might Not Support Specter

From ABC:

On today's "Top Line," Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, warned that union leaders may drop their longstanding support for Specter, D-Pa., if -- as he has promised to do -- he votes against them on their legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act.

Trumka said he's still confident that Specter's concerns about the bill can be addressed.
"He says he's not for the current bill in its current form, although I think there is a form that he will [support]. We'll see what happens," he said.
He added that any bill "absolutely" would have to provide for binding arbitration to provide a fixed timeline for resolving disputes over forming unions -- a provision that is harshly opposed by business groups.

Sestak: If Specter Doesn't Shift His Positions, I'll Run Against Him

Sestak: If Specter Doesn't Shift His Positions, I'll Run Against Him

That's the Talking Points Memo headline on this new development that also comes via Greg Sargent:
Sestak cautioned that Stern didn’t directly address the 2010 primary. But he said the meeting went “great,” strongly suggesting that SEIU is seriously considering supporting him or another primary challenger to Specter. “It was very clear that there were a number of issues we agree on,” Sestak said of his much-anticipated meeting with Stern.
Sestak also confirmed that he’d almost certainly get in the race if Specter doesn’t show a major ideological change of heart. “If he doesn’t demonstrate that he has shifted his position on a number of issues, I would not hesitate at all to get in,” Sestak said.

'Loyal Democrat' Quote Flap; Specter Meets with An Editorial Board

Greg Sargent's WhoRunsGov blog reported today that two different journalists are "sticking by the claim that Arlen Specter privately promised Obama that he’d be a 'loyal Democrat,' which Specter loudly denied yesterday."

Sargent also said: "If Specter privately fibbed to Obama about his loyalty to Dems, and is now publicly fibbing about having said it, perhaps it tells Democrats a thing or two about their new Senator."

David Shuster, guest-hosting MSNBC's Countdown tonight (typically they seem to post video around 10/11 PM Eastern or later), and his guest (Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, I think) made the point that the video clip of "I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat" could be damaging and stick in voters' minds in the Dem primary. They also discussed how strange it is that Specter and his office would leave the "loyal Democrat" quote out there uncorrected for 96 hours if it really is incorrect.

They also said it may depend what the definition of "loyal" is (I'm paraphrasing).

Specter met with the Harrisburg newspaper's editorial board today -- his first such meeting since the switch. Short writeup is online now - maybe there will be a longer version tomorrow morning.