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Specter To Oppose Employee Free Choice Act

Arlen Specter's decision to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act almost certainly could help him fend off a primary challenge in 2010. (Post Photo by Richard A. Lipski)

Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) decision to vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, a reversal of a position he took just two years ago, is evidence of the seriousness with which he views the looming primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey.

Specter announced his opposition to the legislation during a speech on the Senate floor early this afternoon and immediately drew plaudits from conservatives. "Senator Specter has come through in the clutch," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "This is almost certain to be the single most important vote of 2009."

Specter cited the alleged elimination of the secret ballot in EFCA as the main reason he is opposing the legislation.

He also noted that his decision is likely to doom the bill with all 59 Democrats (assuming Al Franken is seated in the Senate) will vote to end debate on EFCA while all 41 Republicans will cast a "no" vote.

"In a highly polarized Senate, many decisive votes are left to a small group who are willing to listen, reject ideological dogmatism, disagree with the party line and make an independent judgment. It is an anguishing position, but we play the cards we are dealt."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted that the bill still could be passed, maintaining that Specter was "not the only Republican that has indicated a willingness to consider
something being done."

EFCA, which is known as "card check" to Republicans, is the hottest button issue of the 111th Congress. Democrats largely see the legislation as a much-needed course correction to allow workers to more easily form unions. Republicans cast it as an anti-business measure that would allow organizers to pressure their colleagues into joining unions.

In 2007, Specter was the lone Republican vote for EFCA, which received 51 total votes -- well short of the 60 required to shut off debate in the Senate.

Democratic pickups in the 2008 election brought their numbers to 58 -- 59 if Al Franken (D) prevails over former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in the Minnesota race. Assuming that Democrats could hold their caucus together (and there are real questions surrounding senators like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas), Specter was seen as the 60th vote to end debate and force an up or down vote that would require only a simple majority to pass. His defection badly complicates the Democrats' path to 60 votes on EFCA.

It's hard not to see Specter's decision through the lens of 2010. Toomey, who came within two points of beating Specter in a 2004 primary, and was expected to take a pass on a rematch as recently as a month ago. But, Toomey has made clear of late that he is going to run and ramped up his criticism of Specter's conservative bona fides (or lack thereof).

Two weeks ago today, Toomey, the president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, posted a statement on the organization's Web site calling EFCA an "abomination."

Today, Toomey said of Specter's announcement: "It's nice to see Sen. Specter reverse his position in a positive direction on card check, but I wish it didn't take primary opposition to get him to do it."

Specter and his advisers knew that if he kept his 2007 positioning on EFCA, Toomey would use the vote as a cudgel to bludgeon him among conservatives who roundly see the legislation as an attempt by unions to further expand their already considerable power.

Specter's opposition of EFCA robs Toomey of a silver bullet type political issue in a Republican primary. Toomey will almost certainly pivot to blast Specter as a flip-flopper on the issue but the Senator and his advisers have decided that the short term pain is worth the long term gain of being on the right side of the issue in the minds of primary voters.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 24, 2009; 3:05 PM ET
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Senator, please listen to this constituent; think carefully before you cast this vote.

Without a significant portion of PA labor behind you, you cannot be re-elected.

Surely you will come to this realization upon further reflection.

Do not entrap yourself out of a sense of fear. If you make the right moves, the Toomey candidacy will be D-O-A.

You don't need the far right to win the nomination. Why are you over-reacting?


YES -- It Has Happened AGAIN:


It is virtually certain that this message did NOT emanate from Wa-Po.


Fix readers, the apparent censorship and/or prior restraint this journalist has experienced is remarkable in its scope, and in its brazen and random application.

I'm really starting to wonder whether the nation is not in the midst of a silent coup.

How else to explain these apparent restrictions on free speech via the interception of telecommunications?

For those who are curious as to what would prompt such censorship, here is a link to the questions, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union -- apparently, the last bastion of free speech in America:

OR (if link is corrupted): "free speech" section, go to "older entries" link, look for "internet filters" thread, last item.

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 24, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

And with this Specter loses the AFL-CIO support he was pledged on the condition he support EFCA. Labor will side with the Democrats, stacking the deck even further against whoever the Republican candidate will be. Meanwhile the GOP continues its fealty to its base. Specter should switch to an independent and hope to cut through the middle in 2010.

Posted by: thecorinthian | March 24, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

"Specter cited the alleged elimination of the secret ballot in EFCA as the main reason he is opposing the legislation." Chris, why isn't the fallacy of this allegation being more widely reported? On my local news and in my local paper of note, The SF Chronicle, it gets nary a mention. Opponents of EFCA are coming out against it for a reason that doesn't exist, and they aren't being called on it. The only reference to this that I've seen has been on The Rachel Maddow Show, and now as an allusion in your post today. This is a big deal, and the fact that opponents are getting away with a baseless, factless argument is infuriating.

Posted by: timsnelling | March 24, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Nothing like covering your tail-end at the expense of others, eh Arlen?

Posted by: soonerthought | March 24, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

EFCA will be a watered-down nothing by the time there is any vote. Union members don't want to pay more for any product or service..they just want to preserve their own jobs.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 24, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Specter is trying to avoid getting tossed in the great Purge of 2010.

Unluckily for him, there will be few America-hating Republicans that will survive 2010.

Posted by: WillSeattle | March 24, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Only delaying the inevitable. Democrats will pick up about 5 Senate seats next year.

Posted by: jgoodfri1971 | March 24, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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