GOP centrists give Obama a majority – barely
This week’s Senate vote on the economic stimulus package could set the pattern in Congress.
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Specter takes own roadSkip to next paragraph
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Fiercely independent, Pennsylvania’s Specter fought back a tough primary challenge from conservative Rep. Pat Toomey in 2004 to win his fifth term. He has voted with Democrats on issues ranging from tax cuts and tort reform to funding for embryonic stem-cell research. [Editor's note: The original version had the wrong date for Sen. Specter's win.]
Aides say his top priorities for working with Mr. Obama include overturning a presidential order limiting federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and winning confirmation for circuit judges nominated during the Bush years with bipartisan support.
Last week, he and Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa won a vote on their amendment to the stimulus legislation to add $3 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, for a total of $6.5 billion. A spokesman says he is still considering his stance on card check.
“Card check is shaping up to be a pivotal vote for Specter – in some respects more important than the stimulus,” says Terry Madonna, a pollster and political scientist at Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. On Saturday, the state Republican Committee urged Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.
A handful of other Republican senators worked with Collins on a bipartisan compromise last week, but dropped out of negotiations when Democrats and the Obama team were unwilling to make further concessions.
"At the end of the day, he saw a plan that had too much spending and not enough of it targeted spending," says Ken Lundberg, a spokesman for Sen. Mel Martinez (R) of Florida. But Mr. Martinez has made no secret of the fact that he wants to work with the president on comprehensive immigration reform and the housing situation.
Another negotiator, Sen. George Voinovich (R) of Ohio, dropped out of talks just hours before a final deal was announced on Friday. The "philosophical differences on what the federal government should be doing, especially on school construction, were too far apart," says spokesman Chris Paulitz. But Mr. Voinovich hopes to work with the new president on more infrastructure repair and spending, Mr. Paulitz adds.
– Bridget Huber contributed. This story was updated at 8:57 E.T. on Tuesday, Feb. 10.