WASHINGTON – The Senate dealt a blow Tuesday night to Sen. Arlen Specter’s hold on seniority in several key committees, a week after the Pennsylvanian’s party switch placed Democrats on the precipice of a 60-seat majority.
In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved a resolution that added Specter to the Democratic side of the dais on the five committees on which he serves, an expected move that gives Democrats larger margins on key panels such as Judiciary and Appropriations.
But Democrats placed Specter in one of the two most junior slots on each of the five committees for the remainder of this Congress, which goes through December 2010. Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter’s seniority claim at the committee level only after the midterm elections next year.
“This is all going to be negotiated next Congress,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Without any assurance of seniority, Specter loses a major weapon in his campaign to win re-election in 2010: the ability to claim that his nearly 30 years of Senate service places him in key positions to benefit his constituents.
Tuesday night’s committee resolution, quickly read on the Senate floor by Reid himself, contradicts Specter’s assertion last week when he publicly announced his move from the Republican side of the aisle. He told reporters that he retained his seniority both in the overall chamber and in the committees on which he serves. Specter said that becoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee was a personal goal of his, one that would be within reach if he were granted his seniority on the panel and placed as the third most senior Democrat there.
Without that seniority, though, Specter, 79, would not even hold an appropriations subcommittee chairmanship in 2011, a critical foothold Specter has used in the past to disburse billions of dollars to Pennsylvania.
When Supreme Court nomination hearings are held this summer, Specter will be the last senator to ask questions of the eventual nominee – a dramatically lower profile than in 2005 and 2006, when he chaired the Judiciary Committee and ran the confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.