December 22, 2008
Counting Potential Votes for EFCA
If you are a hard-core political junkie and/or a numbers freak, you're probably already well-acquainted with the website, fivethirtyeight.com. It's the brainchild of baseball numbers nerd (I say that as complementary as possible) Nate Silver, whose regression-based prediction for the presidential race this year was eerily on target. Although a bit outside his number-crunching expertise, he has an interesting post on the potential votes for EFCA in the Senate--focusing in particular on the need for cloture to shut down an expected filibuster (I'll forgive him for describing EFCA as "seemingly obscure"):
[T]he margin of error between the passage and failure of the bill in the Senate is going to be very, very thin.
In 2007, 51 senators voted for cloture on EFCA -- all Democrats except Tim Johnson, who was still absent from the Senate at that time, plus a lone Republican, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter. That left the Democrats 9 votes short of passage -- votes which, in theory, they might now have. Johnson is back in the Senate, and they have picked up seats in Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and are on the verge of doing so in Minnesota. That would give them 60 votes and 60 exactly, if and when replacement senators are appointed in Illinois, Colorado and New York.
Except that, Democrats are in danger of losing at least one vote: Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, who has suggested that she is "undecided" on the measure. Arkansas has very low union participation: between its manufacturing and construction sectors, 6.0 percent of its workforce participates in unions, about half the national average. . . .
[If the Democrats] lose Lincoln, then [keeping] Specter only gets the Democrats to 59. Are there any other Republicans who might flip? Three others -- Ohio's George Voinovich, and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- have received at least $100,000 in union contributions since 2003. Another wild card might be Alaska's Lisa Murkowski; Alaska is a highly unionized state, and the unions have sometimes been supportive of her. If Sarah Palin decides to run against her in 2010, Murkowski will need substantial support from union members to have a chance of defending her seat. Still, all four voted against cloture when the bill came up in 2007, and if Obama's coattails would ordinarily be worth something, that momentum is mitigated by the loss of face that the unions suffered on the auto bailout, when the UAW's public relations effort when nightmarishly.
Most likely, then, the Democrats will need to hold both Lincoln and Specter, as well as win the seat in Minnesota. If any of these contingencies fall through, EFCA faces an uphill battle.
This analysis may be overly optimistic. I'm still not convinced that all Democrats will get on board. Depending on how strongly the Obama Administration pushes EFCA and whether it's brought as a stand-alone bill, there could be more Democratic defections. Stay tuned.
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I have a friend in the Virginia legislature who's fond of observing that "There's no such thing as a self-butchering hog."
Republicans who would vote for EFCA, or cloture on EFCA, would demonstrate that my friend's observation is false.
Posted by: James Young | Dec 23, 2008 10:43:15 AM
Speaking strictly in my individual capacity, thanks for this informative post. Absent meaningful amendment, the NLRA is more of a relic than anything else. Undoubtedly, it would have difficulty getting passed by Congress today. The BNA Daily Labor Report yesterday described in gory detail the huge war that will be waged by business interests against EFCA, while the same interests would otherwise characterize unions as marginal and anachronistic. No amount of talk about unity and post-partisanship can erase the class war. It remains to be seen how Obama will approach divisive issues such as class and race, although as to labor law reform, the appointment of Solis is a good sign. Readers, please become informed advocates for EFCA. Good resources are available at http://www.aflcio.org/
issues/politics/issues_efca.cfm and http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/employee-free-choice-act/home-102/. Happy holidays!
Posted by: Board Agent | Dec 23, 2008 10:43:17 AM
Just playing the prediction game, and not discussing what we would with for normatively, isn't the most likely scenario passage of some sort of compromise bill, with some but not all of the features of the current EFCA?
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Dec 23, 2008 7:42:32 PM
Nate doesn't discuss the changed political dynamic in New England. Collins and Snowe are now even lonelier republicans then they had been in the past. As a Maine attorney with family in the state, I can tell you that they will be under intense pressure to maintain their nonpartisan brand - a slightly different spin on Jim's self-butchering hog motif: recognize the butcher.
Posted by: Michael Duff | Dec 24, 2008 9:35:25 AM
Well, who would the butcher be, Michael? Would Snow and Collins be under the illusion that voting for cloture (or for the bill itself) buy them a pass from Maine unions? Compromising principle has won them so many union plaudits in the past, after all.
That's the kind of illusion that would move them from the "endangered species" list to the "doomed for extinction" list.
Posted by: James Young | Dec 26, 2008 4:40:14 PM