Flunking Card Check Politics

A major development during my short medical leave was the introduction in the House and Senate of the Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" for union organizing. So rapidly has this issue matured, in fact, that I have cause to re-examine whether my approach to the politics of card check underweights some fundamental realities.

A week ago, virtually all of the political cognoscienti believed as an article of faith that the White House did not want Congress to introduce EFCA this year... that Obama was wavering on the legislation itself... that congressional backers were too afraid of the vote count to go ahead.

We were wrong; Obama, Vice President Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis made public statements in favor of card check and the bill was introduced in both houses.

What did we miss?  Until last week, administration officials did not dispute the reporting that it was slow-walking card check.  Does Washington perceive the issue differently than the rest of the country?

The economy is in the tank; people are losing their jobs; support for business (generically and specifically) is at an all-time low; support for organized labor (as a force for jobs) is higher than it's been in decades.  Card check is toxic in DC; but maybe, out there, it's not so hard to take the side of the working man in favor of greedy CEOs. That's a caricature, of course, of the card check debate, but think of it this way: as people get home tonight and turn on Maddow or Fox Business News or whatever, they'll hear about Bernie Madoff's guilty plea; they're not going to be very receptive to what Citibank or Wal-Mart has to say about card check.

I don't think the public understands the ins and out outs of the bill, and I still think that the "secret ballot" argument against card check is potentially a killer, but I think labor is counting on the complexity, combined with the environment (i.e., "I'm getting screwed while banks and CEOs get bail outs and bonuses), to create enough of a buffer for wavering members of Congress.

So -- does labor have the votes in the Senate?  I think they're close, as Sen. Ben Nelson understands the wiggle room he has by potentially supporting cloture while opposing the final bill. I've changed my mind a bit on whether labor can survive the failure of card check. I now believe that 2009 can be a dress rehearsal for 2010 and beyond -- since the Democratic Party will have incumbents to pressure in the midterms and probably have a larger Senate majority in 2011 regardless.