With all of the attention focused on Barack Obama’s agenda on health care this summer, another explosive issue has withered from a lack of attention. Despite the removal of the bill’s most controversial option, the Senate still has no plans to move EFCA, better known as Card Check, any time this year. Not only does the Senate have no time or stomach for another battle with moderates, they don’t have a full complement to guarantee cloture:
Senate efforts to compromise on a watered-down version of the Employee Free Choice Act have been put firmly on the chamber’s back burner — perhaps for the rest of the year — as senators, aides and lobbyists focus on health care and other legislation, participants said.
“We’re not doing anything right now,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said of talks he has led among a group of Democrats since it became clear in late March that a more ambitious “card check” bill to help unions organize could not win 60 Senate votes.
“We’ve got the healthcare bill; we’ve got appropriations bills, and we’re lacking two senators that we need right now,” Harkin said in an interview. “Nothing is happening on that right now.”
The Card Check bill has a number of problems, primarily attendance. Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy have not returned to the Senate, which leaves Democrats two votes short of gaining cloture on party-line votes. Byrd has occasionally re-appeared, but no one can be sure on a day-to-day basis when he’ll be available. Kennedy probably won’t be back, at least not soon, as he is far too ill to conduct daily business on the Hill.
Even if Democrats had both firmly ensconced and in good health, though, they can’t afford the fight. Like health care and cap-and-trade, Card Check splits Democrats while leaving Republicans united in opposition. ObamaCare nearly broke the Democrats in the House last week, and when the Senate takes up their Waxman-Markey bill in the fall, the Senate will have the same split between the coastal liberals and the Rust Belt moderates — including Byrd. They have to get through both health care and cap-and-trade without dissolving altogether, and Card Check would just make the same differences even wider.
That leaves Card Check for an election year. It’s possible to see Democratic leadership being foolish enough to try passing a small-business nightmare like EFCA before the midterms, although I doubt Republicans will get that lucky. Even without the actual Card Check provision, the mandatory government arbitration of labor disputes will push business interests back towards the GOP while the Left gets angry over the reaffirmation of secret-ballot elections.
If the Senate won’t take up EFCA this year, it’s probably dead until 2011, and at that point the GOP may have gained enough seats in both chambers to stop it.