Yesterday, Senate Republicans prioritized human life over anti-abortion grandstanding and confirmed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. When the world totters on the brink of a pandemic, slow-walking the future health secretary begins to look unseemly. As Dana Goldstein reports in TAPPED: Sebelius' confirmation has been delayed as her home state Republican legislature has forced her to deal with a series of abortion-related bills. Her latest pro-choice veto inspired a Republican backer of her nomination, Sen. Sam Brownback, to hint that he may change his mind and vote "no" on her appointment. Of course, it was all an act, though some conservative activists suspect that swine flu was just a ruse to guilt-trip Republicans into confirming Sebelius. Seriously. Wendy Wright, of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, told the Washington Independent that "If there’s even a hint that [Department of Homeland Security] is manipulating the health situation to push a political appointee through, well, it almost defies imagination that they’d be willing to that.” Some costs of the Republican war on science became evident this week as the U.S. declared an state of emergency over swine flu. John Nichols of the Nation recalls that the Republicans cut $420 million for pandemic preparedness from the stimulus bill on the grounds that public health spending had nothing to do with economic recovery: Senate Republicans led by Maine Senator Susan Collins attacked the public-health spending and successfully eliminated it from the Senate version of the stimulus. Collins complained at the time to CNN that: "There's funding to help improve our preparedness for a pandemic flu. There is funding to help improve cyber security. What does that have to do with an economic stimulus package?" Collins read the stimulus legislation, and the threat, wrong. So, too, did Senate Democratic leaders, who compromised with her wrongheaded demands in order to secure support for a watered-down stimulus plan. If you've been watching the stock market lately, or talked to a travel agent, you know exactly what pandemic preparedness has to do with the economy. Airline and manufacturing stocks were especially hard-hit by flu fears this week, not to mention pork bellies. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced yesterday that he was becoming a Democrat. As Jonathan Stein and Nick Bauman explain in Mother Jones, the far-right caused Specter's defection. The longtime Pennsylvania senator broke with the Republicans not on principle, but because preliminary polling data showed that he couldn't win a primary challenge by far-right Republican, Pat Toomey. In theory, the Democrats now have a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, but not until the winner of the Minnesota senate race, Al Franken, is seated. As Brian Beutler notes at TPMDC, there are enough divisions in the Democratic caucus to reduce a super-majority to mere majority on many important votes. Specter has a reputation as a moderate Republican and few expect the party switch to radically affect his votes. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now has leverage over Specter, because Reid now controls Specter's committee assignments. Finally, in TAPPED, Ezra Klein argues that the Democrats are wise to continue asserting their right to pass healthcare through budget reconciliation--and therefore with a simple majority--if no healthcare bill is passed before the October 15. Let's call it the Don't Drop Dead Date. Hopefully, the prospect of reconciliation will spur Republicans to cooperate on healthcare reform, because the alternative is being left out all together.
Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.