“The Senate goes Wobbly on Card Check”


From my friend and colleague Bob Jensenius at the York Chamber of Commerce, here’s a recent piece from Wall Street Journal on the Card Check issue.  Thanks, Bob, for sending this on…



The Senate Goes Wobbly on Card Check

It’s hard to defend taking away the secret ballot.

By Kimberley Strassel 

Responsibility has a way of focusing the mind.

Take Mark Pryor, Democratic senator from Arkansas. In 2007, Mr. Pryor voted to move card check, Big Labor’s No. 1 priority. And why not? Mr. Pryor knew the GOP would block the bill, which gets rid of secret ballots in union elections. Besides, his support helped guarantee labor wouldn’t field a challenger to him in the primary.

Postelection, Mr. Pryor isn’t so committed. He’s indicated he wouldn’t co-sponsor the legislation again. He says he’d like to find common ground between labor and business. He is telling people the bill isn’t on a Senate fast-track, anyway. His business community, which has nimbly whipped up anti-card-check sentiment across his right-to-work state, is getting a more polite hearing.

It hasn’t been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor’s card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions. The conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama and an unfettered Democratic majority would write that check, lickety-split.

Instead, union leaders now say they are being told card check won’t happen soon. It seems the Obama team plans to devote its opening months to important issues, like the economy, and has no intention of jumping straight into the mother of all labor brawls. It also seems Majority Leader Harry Reid, even with his new numbers, might not have what it takes to overcome a filibuster. It’s a case study in how quickly a political landscape can change, and how frequently the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Paradoxically, it’s Mr. Reid’s bigger majority that is now hurting him. In 2007, he got every Democrat (save South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, who was out sick) to vote for cloture. But it was an easy vote. Democrats like Mr. Pryor knew the GOP held the filibuster, and that Mr. Bush stood ready with a veto. Now that Mr. Reid has 58 seats, red-state Democrats in particular are worried they might actually have to pass this turkey, infuriating voters and businesses back home.

Mr. Pryor isn’t alone. Fellow Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln voted for cloture in 2007 but is now messaging Mr. Reid that she’s not eager for a repeat. She recently said she doesn’t think “there is a need for this legislation right now,” that the country has bigger problems. What she didn’t mention is that she is also up for re-election next year, and that one potential GOP challenger, Tim Griffin, is already vowing to make card check an issue. South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and others face similar pressure. And it seems unlikely new Senate arrivals such as Colorado’s Mark Udall are eager to make card check an opening vote, especially with visions of United Auto Worker bailouts fresh in voter minds.

Republican “moderates” aren’t eager for card check either. If this were a minimum-wage vote, Maine’s Susan Collins, for example, would be lining up. But polls show more than 80% of Americans disagree with eliminating union ballots. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has bolstered opposition by turning card check into a litmus test of Mr. Obama’s promise to work with the other side. Even Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, the lone GOP vote for card check in 2007, is backpedaling, worried about a 2010 primary challenge.

Credit for this new environment goes to a business community that has been uncharacteristically unified in a sweeping campaign against the bill. U.S. Chamber of Commerce General Counsel Steven Law says the issue has even inspired his organization to change tactics.

“In the past, unions would show up in force on the ground while the business community would send someone in a suit up to Capitol Hill. This time, we pushed hard at the grass-roots level and lit a fire under this issue.” Those grass roots have targeted senators like Mr. Pryor and Mrs. Lincoln. Business also spent millions airing ads about card check during the presidential campaign, a prime time to educate voters.

None of this is to suggest card check is dead, or that it might not yet be resurrected in the early days. If Al Franken pulls out a win in Minnesota, Mr. Reid might be inspired to use his 59 votes to forge ahead. Some House Democrats are also suggesting union intimidation would in fact “stimulate” the economy, and that the legislation ought to be attached to the upcoming spending package.

Whatever the difficulties, it’s hard to fathom how waiting helps Democrats. Mr. Obama will never be stronger than in his opening months, and he’ll need muscle to strongarm reluctant party members to support such an unsupportable measure. The initial union strategy was to whip this through before Americans understood the debate, but in that they’ve already failed. The more time goes on, the more likely this issue turns into trench warfare.

For the unions, that wouldn’t just be a shot to the heart, but to the ego. Democrats may try to fob them off with less controversial legislation — “fair pay” or more unionization of public safety offi
cials — but Big Labor feels it is owed much more. We may be about to discover just how patient, or forgiving, those union bosses are.

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