Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator, chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Government Affairs Committee.
Specter also chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight of the Department of Justice, FBI and other federal agencies review of Chinese espionage, campaign finance and Waco.
As chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Specter fought to increase NIH funding and to provide money for programs geared toward reducing the incidence of youth violence under an action plan administered by the Surgeon General. In 1991, he helped create a separate Women's Health Unit at NIH.
Specter's Armed Career Criminal Act, signed into law in 1984 and expanded in 1986, carries a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for a career criminal found carrying a firearm.
A former prosecutor and investigator, Specter led the Veterans Affairs Committee investigation in1999 of Gulf War Illness (from possible exposure to chemical weapons) and in 1995 led the investigation of the killings at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which prompted changes in FBI and ATF policy. He also wrote legislation in 1989 as a result of the Iran-Contra scandal that created Inspectors General of the CIA.
A fiscal conservative, Specter has pressed for the Balanced Budget Amendment and line-item veto, and was the first to introduce a flat-tax bill to lower federal taxes and simplify filing.
Specter began his career as an assistant Philadelphia District Attorney. He was appointed to the Warren Commission staff where he played a leading role in investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. During two terms as District Attorney, he helped restore death penalty statutes in Pennsylvania, fought against consumer fraud, cracked down on rape and other crimes of violence, and prosecuted corrupt public officials.
Specter was born to immigrant parents in Wichita, KS, and grew up in the small town of Russell, KS. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania, then served stateside in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations for two years. He graduated from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the law journal.
Specter lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Joan. They have two sons, Shanin and Steve.