Democrats on Tuesday introduced controversial labor legislation making it easier for workers to organize, formally kicking off the biggest lobbying fight between business and labor in decades.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as card-check, was introduced with 223 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate. That is less support than it attracted in the last Congress, even though Democrats now hold more seats in both chambers. In 2007, EFCA had 230 co-sponsors on its day of introduction in the House and 46 in the Senate.
“The labor movement is not part of the problem. It is a big part of the solution,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said in introducing the bill. He said Democrats were trying to make sure organized labor would be a part of turning the economy around.
Republicans pounced, arguing the bill is a gift to labor unions that campaigned for Democrats last fall and helped them win the presidency, a larger House majority and a 58-seat majority in the Senate that improves the chances of moving labor legislation.
“The card-check bill is not about the economy, and it is not about restoring the middle class. Card-check is all about giving a gift to labor bosses at the expense of both the economy and the middle class,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
Miller and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) indicated Democrats are likely to start the bill in the Senate, where it faces a tougher path to President Obama’s desk.
Last Congress, the bill passed the House easily but stalled in the Senate, gaining only 51 votes for cloture, with Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) the only Republican to join Democrats in support of the procedural move.
Democrats now hold 58 seats in the Senate, but it is unclear whether some centrist Democrats will support the legislation this year, when a vote for cloture would likely mean it would become law.
Last year, business opponents could count on President Bush to veto the bill. This year, President Obama has indicated he’ll sign it.
Union officials are confident they’ll have the 60 votes necessary to move the bill out of the Senate. But that has been disputed by lawmakers, with Harkin and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) both saying the legislation doesn’t have the votes for now.
“By the time we bring it up, we will have 60 votes,” Harkin said at Tuesday’s press conference.
At least six Senators who have voted to move forward with the so-called card-check proposal, including one Republican, now say they are opposed or not sure — an indication that Senate Democratic leaders are short of the 60 votes they need for approval…
The legislation is divisive and distracting, said Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in an interview Monday. The Democratic lawmaker, who was previously seen as a supporter, said the Senate should focus on creating jobs and improving the U.S. economy. “I have 90,000 Arkansans who need a job, that’s my No. 1 priority,” she said. The legislation, she said, would be “divisive and we don’t need that right now.”