Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter recently voted in favor of the $800 billion bailout legislation designed to right America’s economic ship. Since he is one of only three Republicans to break party ranks, Specter is attempting to weather a storm of protest from his own party.
Making the situation more intriguing is that the thirty-year incumbent is up for reelection next year. While no primary opponent has emerged, some political insiders feel that Mr. Specter’s vote may well facilitate a potential challenger coming forward.
The Bulletin caught up with Sen. Specter yesterday for a brief discussion on the bailout, the economic outlook for the country, and possible repercussions from his vote.
The Bulletin: Let’s get right to the heart of "bailout politics," as you have received considerable criticism from some in the Republican Party. You are one of only three senators to buck the GOP establishment, but the only one stranding for reelection next year. As an experienced incumbent, clearly you knew that a bailout vote could generate a primary opponent in 2010, yet you cast that tough vote anyway. Was a potential primary election on your mind as you were making your decision?
Arlen Specter: Absolutely. It’s very much on my mind. The primary is a little more than a year away. But what led me to the vote was that the current economic crisis could turn into a 1929 depression. We have already suffered tremendous losses: three and a half million jobs, millions of foreclosures, and inside information is that the economy is even worse off than is publicly known.
I don’t think it’s too strong to say that there was a potential catastrophe, and in good conscience, I simply could not stand by and see the government do nothing.
TB: Some have criticized the bailout bill as containing a large amount waste and "pork." From your reading of the legislation, is that your impression?
AS: No, there is not. What we do have are quite a number of items that should have been in an appropriations bill as opposed to a stimulus package, and I tried to stop that. President Obama came to speak to the Republican caucus, and when I had my turn to speak, I asked why he was wedded to Feb. 13 (for passage of the bill). And I reviewed problems in the $700 billion dollar bailout where I voted against releasing the second $350 billion. I said that we ought to proceed in regular order. We didn’t have hearings, we didn’t do a mark-up, line by line, and I said there could be a lot of unintended consequences. But we acted in the need for speed.
There were a number of things that factored into my vote on this bill. One was that we got $100 billion out of the bill. Secondly, we increased the tax cuts from 38% to 46%.
And the Chamber of Commerce, which knows more about status of business in America than nearly anyone else, came out very enthusiastically in favor of the bill. They’re a conservative Republican organization.
TB: There seems to be significantly more outrage on this bailout bill as opposed to the $700 billion bailout passed last October. To what do you attribute this?
AS: Because it’s Obama in office now. It’s political. George Bush did exactly the same thing. He came out with a $700 billion package, which is in the same ballpark. I didn’t get the criticism for supporting Bush because I supported a Republican.
I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s no Democrat or Republican way to handle this situation. It has to be objective and American. What’s in the best interest of the country? I couldn’t sit back and say nothing would be done.
And let me say this. I didn’t want to be the negotiator. Senators Collins and Nelson were doing it, and I stayed in the background. Only when it was necessary did I participate.
Remember, I voted for Sen. McCain’s $450 billion tax cut. I supported President Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981. This was the best arrangement that could be made.
Listen, my Republican colleagues conceded that something had to be done, but no one stepped up to negotiate. Not anybody. There were just two of us in that room – Sen. Collins and me.
TB: From a financial perspective, are these trillion dollar packages going to result in America just printing more money, thereby leading to higher inflation?
AS: If we didn’t do something, we would have a lot more unemployment, more loss of productivity, a lot more loss of taxes. Will this succeed? Economics is not a science. No one knows for sure. But one thing I think is pretty sure. If we’d have done nothing, it would have gotten a lot worse. A lot worse.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]