US senator switches sides, giving Dems key majority vote

28 April 2009 19:42  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced on Tuesday that he is leaving the Republican Party to run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat, putting Democrats within one vote of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate.

With Specter’s party affiliation switch, Senate Democrats are certain to have the 60-vote majority in the US legislature’s upper chamber if the still-contested election in Minnesota is decided in favour of the Democrat candidate, former comedian Al Franken.

Recent court decisions in the contested Minnesota senate seat contest have favoured Franken over Republican Norm Coleman, who held that US Senate seat since first being elected in 2002.

Democrats already hold 56 seats in the 100-seat Senate as a result of the November 2008 national elections. 

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is officially an independent, but he was previously a Democrat and currently sits with the Democrat caucus in the Senate.  Another senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also is listed officially as an independent but routinely sits in the Democrat caucus and votes with the Democrat majority.

If as expected Franken’s election wins final court recognition and he is seated in the Senate, for all practical purposes Democrats will hold a 59-seat majority.

Then if Specter is re-elected in November 2010 as a Democrat and the Democrats do not lose any Senate seats in that election, they will hold the prized and rare 60-seat majority.

Under a longstanding Senate parliamentary procedure known as the filibuster, minority members of the upper chamber can block majority-sponsored legislation simply by refusing to end debate on the matter.

Under Senate rules, members can force an end to debate if 60 or more senators agree to end discussion, known as a cloture vote.

As a practical matter, it is difficult to get 60 senators to agree on any major item of legislation, so the filibuster procedure often has been used by the minority party to block bills until their sponsors concede defeat and pull them from consideration.

Specter, who is facing a tough re-election contest in November next year in a state that has shifted heavily to the Democrat side, said his change of party affiliation does not necessarily mean Democrats can invariably count on his vote.

“I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture,” he said.

Even so, if Democrats do secure a 60-vote Senate majority and retain their House majority as well in the 112th Congress that will convene in January 2011, they would have enough control to pass almost any legislation despite Republican objections.

Such a policital landscape in the US Congress could bring significant federal policy and legislative shifts on issues of considerable importance to US chemicals manufacturers, such as climate change and emissions control, chemical facility security requirements, inherently safer technology mandates and access to US offshore natural gas supplies for production feedstock.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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