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Big Labor vs. Democrats

As "card check" grows more unpopular, congressional Democrats will soon have to choose between the powerful unions and their constituents.

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

June 11, 2009 - 2:30 am

Rumors and chatter on Capitol Hill are swirling that “progress” is being made on the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as “card check.” News reports suggested that Sen. Tom Harkin intends to bring up the measure on the Senate floor in July. But do we believe him? And more importantly, would Democrats or Republicans benefit from what would surely be a knock-down-drag-out fight?

There are grounds for skepticism. After all, with health care and Supreme Court confirmation fights brewing, it seems the congressional calendar is already jammed. Yes, it is true that the newest Democratic Senator Arlen Specter has let Big Labor officials know that they won’t be “disappointed” by his vote when it comes up. But what’s in the compromise? And more importantly who’s going to tell Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and other nervous Red State Democrats that they have to walk the plank on this one?

As one Capitol Hill Republican aide told PJ Media: “Sounds like it might be a bit of bluster. … Still, even still, even if all of this is as Harkin claims, they still only have 59 [votes] without Franken.  But if he comes in [to the Senate], they’re going to have to definitely flip Nelson or some of the other nervous Dems.”

There are two possibilities. One option: Harkin is doing his best to create the aura of momentum to keep Big Labor off his back. Or alternatively, there is some magic bullet that will convince not just Specter but the handful of moderate and conservative Democrats — who are already under pressure from constituents for too much government spending and debt — to carry yet more water for a liberal interest group bill, one that the public overwhelmingly disapproves by a large margin.

One thing is for certain: Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell would like nothing better than a big, visible fight on this one. While the Democratic primary raged McDonnell made a point of speaking out clearly in opposition to the bill and zapping his potential rivals who weaved and bobbed, trying to avoid taking a stance. They certainly didn’t want to offend Big Labor donors who were pouring money into the race. However, Virginia is a right-to-work state which has never had a widespread affection for organized labor.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin isn’t letting up now that Creigh Deeds has won the nomination. He tells PJ Media:

This is a jobs election. And Card Check is the biggest job-killing piece of legislation to come down the pike in decades. Bob McDonnell is clear: he strongly opposes Card Check. Creigh Deeds unfortunately refuses to take a position, even though he’s running to be governor of a Right to Work state. It raises the question: Whose interests are more important to Creigh Deeds, big national unions, or the workers and small business owners of Virginia?

So it is clear that if a battle royale is raging in the U.S. Senate and the influential Washington Post headlines are filled with card check stories Deeds will find it increasingly difficult to duck and run for cover when reporters and his opponent ask a simple question: Is he for or against card check?

And that is the dilemma for all Democrats who are in unsafe seats, especially those Red state senators who hail from right-to-work states. Harkin may want to throw a bone to Big Labor, but he’ll come under increasing pressure to back off from those who see this as a political loser for the more moderate and conservative elements in the party.

And the pro-card check forces were not helped this week by news that unions are financially adrift — perhaps the natural result of spending millions to elect Democrats and millions more to push for card check while their membership declined. But they have a solution: card check. The Hill reported that unions have bragged that without the necessity of secret ballot elections they could swell their membership rolls by about 1.5 million new members each year. That means enormous amounts of cash pouring into union coffers:

Unions would stand to gain an additional $320 million to spend on political activities in year 10 alone with a 10-year total of $1.75 billion, according to a report put together by the anti-EFCA Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI).

“EFCA’s passage into law could generate billions of additional dollars for unions to spend on political activity to advance their agenda,” a WFI memo says. “And for those union leaders whose pension funds have been mismanaged, EFCA’s passage would also amount to a massive government-engineered bailout of their financial mismanagement.”

So the question for Democrats seems simple: do they want more union members or more elected Democrats? If they pass card check, unions may celebrate but it may be the kiss of political death for their moderate colleagues and for up-and-coming candidates like Creigh Deeds. Given politicians’ acute sense of self-preservation, odds are that they will choose to throw Big Labor and not their fellow Democrats under the proverbial bus. And if not, Bob McDonnell and a lot of GOP challengers in 2010 will have big smiles on their faces.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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