Specter’s Switch Not Death of EFCA

by Brien Jackson

The biggest non-Geithner related story of the day yesterday was the announcement from Sen Arlen Specter (R-PA) that he will oppose cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). With a maximum 59 Democrats in the Senate, Democrats needed at least one Republican vote for cloture to end debate on the bill and Specter, as the only Republican to suport cloture on the bill in the last Congress, and as someone who has enjoyed a good relationship with Labor for much of his Senate career, was the most obvious choice. With Specter announcing he will oppose cloture, the prospect of getting any other Republicans on board is highly unlikely, meaning that EFCA probably is on hold, for now.

However, Specter’s volatile political situation likely means that the bill itself is far from dead. Specter’s new position should be understood as a matter of naked political positioning, designed entirely to stave off a primary challenge from former Congressman and Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Specter in a 2004 race in which former President George W. Bush had to be brought in to campaign for Specter just days before the election. Specter has never been liked by the conservative activist base of the GOP and, faced with the prospect of a business community angry over his potential support of a bill to make union organizing easier, was looking at a campaign in which he would have no base of support whatsoever. Now, although he will likely remain unpopular with the Republican base, he can count on support from a business community grateful for his putting EFCA on hold, at least, and who will view him as having a better chance to win a general election than the right-wing Toomey. That said, Specter’s switch likely makes it difficult for him to win in November anyway. Labor groups were major backers of Specter in 2004, and Specter has been more popular with Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania for some time. In a state that is increasingly trending in a Democratic direction, as well as being mor elabor friendly than most, this move makes it very likely that a well positioned, high profile Democratic candidate will unseat Specter in 2010. With that in mind, this move might even make the passage of EFCA more likely in the long run, given the prospect of a marginal Republican being replaced by a mainstream Democrat in a pro-labor state. And I wouldn’t discount the possibility that Specter will flip-flop again between the primary and the general election, in a craven bid to win another term in office, either. So while we’ve probably heard the last of EFCA for at least the next 12-18 months, it’s certainly not dead, either in Democratic politics or in the U.S. Senate.

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