A lot of Republicans have wondered the same thing about Arlen Specter over the years. But the fact is, in a curious way Specter’s career of maverick gasbaggery actually puts him on solid footing to ask whether Harry Reid has the wattage to lead the Senate. Coming from a bona fide conservative, the question could be dismissed as mere partisanship. Coming from the Senator from Scotland, it comes off as something closer to statesmanship.

Sen. Arlen Specter today challenged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s ability to serve as leader, saying the Nevada Democrat sabotaged progress on long-stalled spending and taxes bills by calling Republican lawmakers “puppets” for President Bush.

“I really wonder if he’s up to the job when he resorts to that kind of statement, which can only further the level of rancor and animosity with that kind of an insulting comment,” Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said on the Senate floor.

The criticism punctuated the stalemate in the Democrat-led Congress, which is fast approaching the end of the session without a fix to tax increases set to clobber middle-class families next month and without passing 11 of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, Mr. Reid is poised to call another vote linking emergency war funds to a plan for a U.S. pullout from Iraq. The same measure failed in a vote lost month, as did 63 similar Iraq votes this year.

By all means, Sen. Reid, let’s have surrender vote #64 even while things are looking up in Iraq. Let’s hammer the middle class with a tax hike and call the people that you need to bail you out “puppets.” Let’s lay off thousands of defense workers in the middle of a war. That’s some brilliant statecraft you’ve got working there.

So what’s Searchlight’s solution? Bring the Senate back over Christmas. But just the Senate, not the House, since Harry isn’t the boss of Nancy–

Reid, for his part, also reiterated that he can’t boss around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), although it wasn’t clear who was exactly suggested that he could.

“I can’t control Speaker Pelosi,” Reid said. “She is a strong, independent woman.”