Specter To Oppose Employee Free Choice Act
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.
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