Sen. Arlen Specter told an audience of union activists Thursday that he supports the public health insurance option Congress is considering as part of the healthcare overhaul.
"I know you are very interested in the public component and I think Senator Schumer has the right idea about having a public component," Specter said at a rally at the Capitol City Brewery near Union Station. The remarks were first reported in The Morning Call’s Pennsylvania Avenue political blog.
The statement signaled a dramatic shift, apparently brought on in anticipation of a tight race in the Democratic Primary against Rep. Joe Sestak. One new poll shows Specter’s favorability rating at a 17-year low.
His remarks, as reported in Pennsylvania Avenue blog:
“I compliment you on your tenacity and your determination and your passion. I agree with you that healthcare is a right.
"I am sorry to be a little late but President Obama scheduled a meeting at the White House on immigration and it ran a little long. But I’m glad to see you here, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak to you.
"We are working hard on healthcare reform legislation. President Obama has established a summit and invited me to attend. And I do believe that there will be healthcare legislation. I know you are very interested in the public component and I think Senator Schumer has the right idea about having a public component which is to have a level playing field with the private sector, but the public component can be in place.
"I started life as a Democrat. My family was a typical American family, immigrant parents, tough times during the depression. FDR Democrats, so I was a JFK Democrat. I tried in the Senate for years to have a moderate wing and when President Obama was elected and wanted to bring in the stimulus package, and came and talked to us Senators and laid it on the line about the United States facing possibly a 1929 type depression. I voted for the stimulus package — provided it a key vote to get it passed. For Pennsylvania it means 143,000 jobs, it means $16 billion, it means the continuation of Medicaid and Medicare, and SCHIP — healthcare for children. It is the right thing to do, and I have had a voting record over the years more in line with Democrats than Republicans. I voted for a woman’s right to choose. I took the lead with Senator Harkin on increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health from $12 to 30 billion. I voted 22 times for Davis-Bacon, 20 times for extending unemployment compensation, cosponsored legislation for the minimum wage. There were a lot of Democrats who had been urging me to change my registration. I rode the train for three decades with then-Senator Biden from Washington to Wilmington — I went on to Philadelphia. Do you know how repetitious Joe Biden can be? And Ed Rendell has urged me for years to become a Democrat. You may not know that I gave Ed Rendell his first job out of law school. He was a law student at Villanova, I was District Attorney. He wanted to become an Assistant D.A. so he could become famous and get to be governor and there you are. He wanted me to become a Democrat and after I voted for the stimulus package I found more Republicans who wanted me to be a Democrat than Democrats who wanted me to become a Democrat. So I went with the flow and we feel very comfortable, I don’t have to look over my right shoulder anymore.
"I came in with Eileen Connolly who’s holding my coat. And the Employee Free Choice Act was mentioned, and we’re working hard to find the answer which will get early union certification and we’ll get the first contract. But today I know your focus is on healthcare. I have to go down to the Senate chamber, we’re about to vote on Dean Koh, where the filibuster was defeated. He’s a very strong Obama nominee to be legal counsel to the Department of State.
"But I thank you for coming to Washington, I thank you for putting up with this heat and waiting and I thank you for your passion and your presence and your rally. Your enthusiasm has a big effect on what goes on three blocks away on the Congress of the United States. And you will get healthcare."
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