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Opinion: Democrats angry at Reid for promising Specter choice committee slots

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Oops, not so fast with the feel-good vibes coming out of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Turns out that one day after Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter thrilled Democrats and stunned Republicans by defecting to the Blue Caucus, some of his new allies on the Democratic side are miffed.

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The reason: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, in negotiations before the announcement, promised Specter he could keep the seniority he’d accrued as a Republican on powerful committees such as Appropriations and Judiciary. There is of course precedence for this. Think Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party to run as an independent but was allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, even though he endorsed his friend John McCain over Barack Obama in last year’s presidential election.

That did not sit well with some senators who stand to be passed over for subcommittee chairmanships because of Specter, and who shared their concerns with The Hill.

‘I won’t be happy if I don’t get to chair something because of Arlen Specter,’ said Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is fifth in seniority among Democrats on Appropriations behind Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii), Sens. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). ‘I’m happy with the Democratic order, but I don’t want to be displaced because of Arlen Specter,’ she said.

Privately, some Senate Democrats are even grumbling that Specter should cede seniority because they rescued his career. Facing a tough primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey, Specter was considered a political corpse. Now that he’s switched parties, he’s been revived, and critics feel he should be thanking them, not taking their seats.

But Reid is no doubt reminding them that without Specter, the Democrats can’t get to that magic, filibuster-proof number of 60 votes.

Anyway, this is all a bit academic. Committee assignments won’t get doled out until after the 2010 elections. So first, Specter has to win. Ditto Mikulski.

-- Johanna Neuman

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