Monday, May 18, 2009

The Meaning of Blanche Lincoln's Defection

Until now, support for EFCA has fallen primarily upon party lines. Most Democrats have been supportive, while nearly all Republicans are opposed. With the Democratic majority in the House, it passage in present form would be nearly certain.

President Obama signaled his support for the bill during the campaign, though it appears more and more as though that support is of the 'I'll find the courage to lift the pen and sign the legislation if it shows up my desk' variety. Suffice to say it's not a meaningful part of the administration's agenda at this point.

Which leaves everything up to the Senate. It's been clear for quite some time that 60 votes don't exist for the bill in its present form. Most of the public opposition to the bill has been on the 'card check' provision, with quite a few elected officials and organizations echoing Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga) in labeling it the "Secret Ballot Destruction Act".

Recently though, we've seen Arlen (I was for EFCA, before I was a against it, before I was kind of iffy about it) Specter (D-Pa) say things like:
“I’m opposed to giving up the secret ballot or mandatory arbitration as they are set forth in the bill, but I do believe that labor law reform is past overdue."
Now, just last week we've saw Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ar) coming out against EFCA, not on card check grounds, but on the section dealing with binding arbitration. This is significant for two reasons. First, as I mentioned in my EFCA explanation post, the binding arbitration section in EFCA is probably the most important provision to both labor and business. It hasn't received the hype of card check only because it's more difficult to explain and didn't fit into rhetoric about the sanctity of cherished American institutions. Translation: it's harder to make a 30 second TV ad with that binding arbitration as your straw man.

Secondly, and far more importantly, this now creates a fourth camp. Until now, you had perhaps 50 senators supporting EFCA in its present form, 38 senators in opposition, and 10-12 (nearly all of them Democrats) that had been hesitant to openly support the bill, but were perhaps open to some kind of 'compromise'. With Lincoln foraging the way, the compromise group has now been split into two camps -- those hellbent in their opposition to card check, and those hellbent in their opposition to binding arbitration.

This might sound wonky and complicated, but this is the defining development for EFCA right now. Multiple compromise camps will provide cover for moderate Democrats who want to oppose real labor reform, but count on labor to get them elected, and can't politically come out against EFCA. It also frames the debate poorly for Democrats in general, who can claim individually that they're in favor of 'compromise' while creating conditions under which compromise is impossible. I'll write far more about this soon, but this also frames the issue poorly for labor, as they'll probably be forced to take a hard line stance against those moderate Dems who refuse to wholly endorse EFCA.

Over the course of the next weeks and months, and probably into the next Congress, you can count on members of the Senate dividing themselves almost equally into these compromise camps, and subsequently refusing to budge on the one provision they just can't live with.

I'll be writing a lot more about this angle soon, but it's right to view this development as completely derailing EFCA in this Congress, and perhaps even putting it behind the curve in 2010. To the degree that this was in any part a coordinated strategy by groups opposing EFCA, I think it's brilliant.

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