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Specter's Mtp Appearance: A Silver Lining?

Arlen Specter used his "Meet the Press" appearance on Sunday to make clear that, contrary to early media reports, "I am not loyal Democrat." While it's not clear just how meaningful this declaration is--i.e., to what extent Specter felt he needed a display of independence for political reasons--generally speaking this hardly seems surprising. His voting record put him to the left of the Republican Party but to the right of the Democratic Party. He may be closer to the latter, at the moment, but he's still not quite there.

To be honest, the real surprise on Sunday may have been what Specter said about health care. Host David Gregory began by asking Specter whether he supported the creation of a public insurance option--that is, a Medicare-like into which anybody can enroll. Specter said "no."

Gregory then asked what health care reforms, if any, Specter did support. Here's what the senator responded:

I would like to see all Americans covered. I've joined with the Wyden-Bennett plan, has 14 co-sponsors. I would like to see health care which emphasizes exercise and diet and, and makes premiums lower on that basis. I would like to see health care which had very tough prosecution against Medicare and Medicaid fraud, put people in jail as opposed to fines, which are licenses to steal. I would emphasize National Institute of Health research.  What better way to reduce the cost of health care than to, than to have--prevent illness?  I would support advanced directives, where we find so much of medical care is paid for the in the last few hours or few days or a person's life. Not to tell people what to do on their care at that time, but have them, have them think about it. I support programs which improves technology, as the stimulus package has $19 billion. I've been in this field for a long time and have a lot of ideas, participated in the president's task force, and I'm ready to put my shoulder to the wheel to get legislation adopted.  But I'm going to take a look at it piece by piece. I'm not committed.

If Specter supports the Wyden-Bennett plan and "all Americans covered," that actually puts him a bit to the left of where I thought he'd start. Most liberals don't like the Wyden-Bennett plan, primarily because it lacks a public insurance option. (That's my main criticism of it as well.) But the Wyden-Bennett plan would make sure every American has health insurance--more quickly and more surely than the plan Obama ran on in the primaries. It'd also pay for itself, which is something Obama and the Democrats are still figuring out how to do with their reform plans.

Note, too, the reference about "advance directives," which sounds like a nod toward comparative effectiveness studies--something anathema to much of the right.

The Democrats may not need Specter's vote for health reform anyway. But, based on that quote, he's more sympathetic to the cause than Senator Ben Nelson.

Update: Of course, if Specter supports Wyden-Bennett but opposes its financing scheme, then perhaps his endorsement doens't mean so much after all. See Ezra for more. 

--Jonathan Cohn