Published April 28, 2009
The following is a biography of Sen. Arlen Specter:
Since first elected in 1980, Arlen Specter has brought rugged individualism and fierce independence learned from his youth on the Kansas plains to become a leading Senate moderate.
His work as Philadelphia's tough district attorney gave him insights to write the Terrorist Prosecution Act, the Armed Career Criminal Act and co-author of the Second Chance Act. His legal background and experience in constitutional law provided the skills to chair the dignified confirmation hearings of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.
In earlier confirmation hearings he had the courage to cross party lines in opposing Judge Bork and disagreeing with conventional wisdom in supporting Justice Thomas after dissecting the contradictory and highly charged testimony.
As a consummate legislator, he has counseled compromise and conciliation in a Congress which has established new records for partisan discord. In foreign affairs, he has advocated dialogue and accommodation as an antidote to belligerency and saber rattling.
A brief summary of his record is next with a more extensive statement of his record and current activities.
Arlen Specter's five terms have made him the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania's history. A voice of reason, his independence and balance have won endorsements from the AFL-CIO and high marks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (100% in 2006), the National Association of Manufacturers (86% in 2006), and the Americans for Tax Reform (90% in 2006). Time Magazine listed him among the ten best Senators in 2006. Knowlegis rated him the second most powerful Senator in 2006 behind only Majority Leader Bill Frist.
A November 11, 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial stated: "Senator Arlen Specter has more clout than some sovereign nations." Dedication to Public Service Senator Specter attributes his zeal for public service to his experience as a child when he saw the government mistreat his father, Harry Specter, who migrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1911. Private Specter, serving in World War I in the infantry, was seriously wounded in action in France's Argonne Forest. When the government broke its promise to pay World War I veterans a $500 bonus, the veterans marched on Washington. President Hoover called out the Army which fired on and killed veterans on the Mall in one of the blackest days in American history.
As a metaphor, Senator Specter says he has been on his way to Washington ever since to get his father's bonus and since he hasn't' gotten it yet, he's running for re-election. The incident over his father's bonus has made Arlen Specter a fierce advocate for veterans' benefits and the "little guy" in his battles with the federal government.
From his immigrant parents, Arlen Specter learned work ethics the hard way. His father, Harry Specter, who was a peddler, took five-year-old Arlen to small Kansas towns selling cantaloupes door to door with a small basket in hand. In his dad's junkyard in Russell, Kansas, sixteen-year-old Arlen Specter cut down oil derricks with an acetylene torch and loaded scrap iron into rail freight cars headed for the smelter.
His credentials include votes for the line-item veto and a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. As a two-term Philadelphia district attorney, he fought for tough sentences for tough criminals and later, in the Senate, wrote ground breaking legislation providing for life sentences for three-time recidivists on violent crimes.
Judiciary Committee Since 1981, he has played a significant role in Supreme Court nomination hearings, for Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justices O'Conner, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer and Judge Bork. Notwithstanding debilitating chemotherapy treatments in 2005, he stayed on the job as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to preside over historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings. His work on the Judiciary Committee has included writing significant legislation on dealing with Constitutional law, civil rights and privacy.
Appropriations Committee: Health/Education On the Appropriations Committee, where he is one seat away from becoming Chairman with a change in Senate control, he led the fight to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health from $12 to $30 billion to expand medical research to find cures for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other maladies. He has supported expanding health care for seniors and children and has proposed legislation to cover the almost fifty million Americans who do not have health insurance.
Because Senator Specter is keenly aware of the importance of understanding the younger generation, he often visits and speaks at universities and high schools. He credits his parents, both immigrants, with emphasizing the importance of education which has enabled his brother, two sisters and himself to share in the American dream. To empower others with access to education, he led the fight on the Appropriations Subcommittee to increase federal spending by 138% and raise funding for scholarships and student loans. Constituent Service/Pennsylvania's Economy Constituent service and promoting Pennsylvania's economic interests have been the hallmarks of Senator Specter's Senate career.
He maintains offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Erie, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and the Lehigh Valley to help residents of those areas who need assistance to cut Washington's red tape. From his experience as a teenager working on a farm in Kansas, the state where he was born, Sen. Specter has understood and worked on the problems of Pennsylvania's farmers from his position on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
He frequently argues in the International Trade Commission to assist the steel industry from being deluged with unfair foreign imports. His proposed legislation, endorsed by both business and labor, would create a private right of action in federal courts to stop subsidized or dumped products from being imported into the U.S. He has supported the coal industry by promoting legislation for clean coal technology and securing $100 million for a Schuylkill County project to turn sludge into high octane, environmentally safe gasoline. Recognizing the long-term effects of global warming, he has co-sponsored the Bingaman-Specter bill to reduce harm from carbon emissions.
As Chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the 104th Congress and a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Sen. Specter has traveled extensively meeting with world leaders including Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; French President Francois Mitterrand; Israel's Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert; China's President Hu Jintao; Indian Prime Minister Singh; Pakistan's Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto, Mohammad Zia and Pervez Musharraf; Jordan's Kings Hussein and Abdullah; and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Strongly agreeing with Moishe Dayan's famous statement that we make peace with our enemies not our friends, he has met with Syria's Presidents Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad; the Palestinian Authority's Chairman Yassar Arafat; Iraq's President Saddam Hussein; Cuba's President Fidel Castro; Lubya's Leader Muammar Gaddafi; and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.
From these meetings and his studies of foreign affairs since his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in Political Science and International Relations, Sen. Specter has been a forceful advocate for aggressive diplomacy to solve international conflicts. He wrote, with staffer Chris Bradish, an article for the Washington Quarterly (Winter 2006-2007), outlining a blueprint for diplomatic initiatives in the Mideast with emphasis on bilateral negotiations with Iran and Syria.
Similarly, he has urged bilateral, as well as multi-lateral, negotiations with North Korea. Early in his Senate career in 1982, he was among the first to call for a US/USSR summit in a Resolution which passed the Senate 90 to 8. He participated extensively with the Senate observers at the Geneva Arms Reduction talks in the 1980's and led the fight for the broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty.
Sen. Specter has consistently supported appropriations to fight global aids and promoted worldwide support for underdeveloped countries including free trade agreements.