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Blue Dogs Waffle on EFCA

February 18, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) passed the House last session with all but two Democrats voting in favor. Of course, the bill never stood a chance getting through the Senate or being signed into law by Bush. But now that the Senate may actually have the votes and the President in office is an original co-sponsor of the bill, there are some strange grumblings coming from the moderate section of Democrats in the House.

Arkansas News columnist David J. Sanders reports that the Blue Dog Caucus, a 47-member strong moderate/conservative arm of House Democrats, have some serious misgivings about the bill this time around:

>Last week, at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce headquarters, chamber officials briefed nearly 100 members of a coalition opposing card check about their efforts to lobby members of Arkansas congressional delegation.
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>According to individuals who attended the meeting, they were encouraged by what they heard, especially what was relayed to them regarding conversations between chamber officials and 1st District Congressman Marion Berry, a Democrat.
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>An official informed the group that Berry recently had told him that he thought the bill was a piece of junk and that he only voted for it because he knew then-President Bush would veto it.
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>The official then told the group that Berry recounted to him a recent discussion the Blue Dogs had with House Democratic leadership. According to Berry, the Blue Dogs told House leadership that card check wasn’t a free vote for them anymore and that their constituents were giving them a lot of grief over the issue.
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>The Blue Dogs strongly urged House leadership not to bring this bill back up on the House floor until the Senate had passed something first, because they look like idiots for continuing to pass it and then it dying in the Senate.
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>The official claimed that Berry had ensured him that this time around, the business community had stepped up its game and he was hearing from a lot of people in his district about how bad this bill really was.

Real quick, here’s what the bill would do: EFCA would change the rules governing the formation of unions so that unions would be certified once a majority of employees have signed union authorization cards. The current rules require a final ballot vote on the union to be taken after a majority has signed off on the cards. It also establishes a timeline for first contracts to be drawn up and refers any outstanding disputes to an arbitration panel for a legally binding decision.

Okay, back the Blue Dogs’ new position. Democrats in the House hold a 38-vote margin of error for getting legislation passed this session. With 47 members, if the Blue Dogs can stick together, they can block just about anything they want to (as could the Progressive Caucus, the New Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus, etc.). With the Blue Dogs being in an ideological position to reasonably oppose this bill (the two Dems who voted against it last time were Blue Dogs), Matt Yglesias sees this as a perfect chance for them to pander to wealthy potential donors:

>What’s happening is that even though the Republican Party lost the last election, the wealthy business interests who’d been financing the Republican Party can’t be defeated at the ballot box. And they hate the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would make it easier to form unions. And the evidence indicates that unions flatten the compensation structure at unionized firms—more money for folks at the low end, less for folks at the top. If I were a corporate manager, I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. And if, as a manager, I was able to use the company’s resources to advance my interests by fighting EFCA, I would want to do that. And that’s what they’re doing. And they have a lot of money to spend on that cause. Which means that if you can be the guy who blocks this legislation, you’ll be a hero to a lot of rich people prepared to spend a lot of money rewarding their hero. It’s a great opportunity for a moderate House Democrat.

Greg Sargent at the Plum Line is reporting that the Democratic leadership has agreed to let the Senate take up EFCA first so that Blue Dogs don’t have to vote on it twice.

>“Their concern is that the House will pass something, then the Senate will take up the bill and do something different,” the senior leadership aide tells me. “The Blue Dogs don’t want to end up voting on something that won’t even become law. They’re saying, `See what can get through the Senate first, and then we’ll vote on it.’”

There have been rumors that EFCA could come out of the Senate without the card check provision; if that were the case, the Blue Dogs would be able to vote with House Democrats for the weaker bill and effectively block the version of EFCA that the business interests oppose.

A commenter, sgwhiteinfla, at the Plum Line has a different take:

>This is actually smart policy in light of what happened with the stimulus bill. The EFCA is actually going to be more contentious than the stim bill fight was because the gang of three won’t see any pressure to get something done now. And if the House passed their bill first then you would have the Scarboroughs and Hannitys of the world claiming again that Nancy Pelosi wrote the bill. At least this way they know what they are dealing with before hand and can set their sights appropriately. I will also point out that this move lights a fire under Harry Reid’s a$$ to force a filibuster for once. The EFCA bill won’t need 60 votes to pass unlike the stim bill did so if Reid forces and breaks a filibuster the Dems in the Senate can pass it with a simple majority. I bet Harry Reid is pissed though. I for one am ecstatic! And when the labor unions realize whats going on they will be too.

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