Former Sen. Arlen Specter, the longtime Pennsylvania Republican whose late-career switch to the Democratic Party in 2009 helped Democrats pass sweeping healthcare reform legislation a year later, died Oct. 14 in Philadelphia from complications related to non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 82.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement praising Specter
—who served in the U.S. Senate from January 1981 through January 2011—as a “man of moderation” who was both passionate and easy to work with in Congress. “America is better today because of Arlen Specter,” Reid said. “He will be dearly missed.”
Until 2009, Specter represented the Keystone state as a Republican before he transferred political parties, saying his political philosophy was more aligned with the Democratic Party. The move gave the Democrats 59 seats
in the upper chamber, while Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) defeat of former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.)—which the Minnesota Supreme Court decided in June 2009 after a months-long legal battle—gave the Senate the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Specter voted in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.
HHS Secretary Sebelius called Specter a “strong advocate and champion” of HHS, especially in the areas of biomedical research, public health, disease research and prevention.
“Senator Specter's commitment to expanding access to healthcare, and his long-time, continued support for affordable, available healthcare for all deserves special recognition,” Sebelius said in a statement
Sebelius also said Specter was a strong advocate for certain agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, the CDC named a building the Arlen Specter Headquarters and Operations Center at the agency's Atlanta campus in his honor.
Early in his career, Specter sought to run as a Democrat for district attorney before switching to the GOP.