Republicans are still trying to kill it. Democrats are still hoping to revive it. And forces on both sides of the debate over controversial union organizing legislation are still pressing ahead with multimillion dollar lobbying campaigns.
Following Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) announcement last week that he will not vote to begin debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) launched a fresh round of talks with a handful of moderate Republicans in the chamber to keep the bill alive.
Opposition to the bill, otherwise known as card check, has been substantial. Republicans in particular have balked at language to eliminate the use of a secret ballot when workers vote to unionize, as well as provisions on binding arbitration.
Although Democratic aides have declined to discuss which Republicans Harkin may be looking to cut a deal with, lobbyists familiar with the issue said he is likely to approach lawmakers such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), George Voinovich (Ohio), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine).
But those talks are in the early stages, and Democratic aides said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not scheduled any floor time in the coming work period to deal with the EFCA. The Senate will break on Friday for a two-week recess, returning for a five-week stretch until Memorial Day.
“It’s not scheduled for the next work period,— one source said, adding that there has been little discussion among leaders about moving ahead with the legislation.
Business groups and Republicans, meanwhile, are continuing to put the pressure on moderate Democrats like Arkansas’ Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor to come out against the bill.
One source said that, while having Specter in the GOP fold has greatly helped the party’s efforts to kill the legislation, it may not be a guarantee. If Democrat Al Franken wins his contested election against former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Republicans will need at least a handful of Democratic opponents to put it to rest once and for all.
“The only way to put to bed a proposal as bad as this is to have a bipartisan rejection,— a senior GOP leadership aide said.
Helping in that cause is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is set to spend $20 million on card check this year to kill the EFCA.
“There’s really no compromising with this current bill,— said Glenn Spencer, who heads the chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative. “Any conversation about labor law reform would have to have as a precursor getting rid of this card check bill completely.—
The chamber is hosting its second fly-in on the issue Wednesday, with more than 100 people coming in from Alaska, Montana, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Delaware and North Dakota. Additionally, the chamber is pouring money into print and television advertising campaigns in those states.
“The good news from our perspective is the target list continues to grow,— Spencer said. “From the union perspective, that has to be a little disconcerting because they aren’t finding fertile grounds in terms of Republicans.—
As Democratic leadership mulls the issue, business groups say they expect the unions to press for a Senate floor vote.
“What’s interesting is usually when you have walk-the-plank votes, you are trying to make the other side look bad,— Spencer said. “There is no downside for Republicans on this vote.—
With lawmakers preparing to head home for the Easter break at week’s end, the Workforce Fairness Institute, which opposes the EFCA, is circulating a set of talking points to Republicans on the bill. A copy of the talking points obtained by Roll Call says Republicans and other opponents will use the recess to continue their opposition to legislation.
Labor unions will also use this week to pressure lawmakers.
Like the chamber, a coalition of labor groups including the AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work and Change to Win are hosting a fly-in of union members this week to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, as well as public events featuring actors and celebrities such as Martin Sheen.
Union officials said that despite the setbacks of losing Specter and of renewed interest in a compromise, they remain confident that they will be able to salvage the legislation.
“You hear rumblings about compromise-this and compromise-that, but that’s not where union presidents are. We’ve always assumed that we would start first in the Senate. As soon as Al Franken is seated, we’re going to move pretty quickly on this,— a labor official said.
Anna Palmer and Matthew Murray contributed to this story.