Officials tasked with helping push the Employee Free Choice Act through Congress are growing concerned about the possible defection of Senate Democrats in a debate that is bound to be heated and close.
A senior official involved in getting EFCA passed into law said he was underwhelmed but not surprised by the support being offered for this union priority from the White House and, to a lesser extent, congressional leadership. Part of the issue, he noted, was that the party is in the midst of tackling vast economic challenges, essentially forcing EFCA (and various other key bills) to the backburner. But the new concern was that Republicans may be able to successfully pick off a member of the caucus if the issue comes to a vote.
"There are no guarantees that this thing can get past cloture," said the official. And it's not because of Republican opposition, he added. "You've got Pryor and Lincoln who might not support it. There is Baucus, Landrieu, and even Bayh. And then there is Nelson of Nebraska."
The possibility of Democratic defection has not gone unconsidered among those charting out the EFCA debates. But with some strategists predicting 59 votes in favor of the bill (once Al Franken is seated) the predominance of focus has been paid to which Senate Republican -- usually Sen. Arlen Specter -- could be convinced to cross party lines to help pass cloture.
Democratic leadership has said they want a vote on the matter in late spring or early summer. And with that time frame coming into focus, the lobbying campaign to defeat EFCA appears to be heating up. At the Conservative Political Action Committee, former Speaker New Gingrich let it be known that conservatives "will never forgive somebody who votes for cloture or for passage." On Monday, meanwhile, the New York Times reported that "Republican and business strategists" were focusing their lobbying efforts on "several Democratic senators."
And yet, not everyone is convinced that the bill will come to a vote by early summer, especially if internal whip counts show that Democrats don't have the votes for cloture. Right after the election, union officials were adamant that EFCA be considered within the president's first year in office. Now, however, there seems to be a loosening of the deadline. As the SEIU's Andy Stern told the Huffington Post, in a statement that the aforementioned Democrat called "very telling" for it's open-ended time frame:
"In the end, we have to pass this bill in the House and the Senate. I'm not a congressional strategist, [but] I would say that in the end both houses are going to get to vote. And whatever way makes sense -- where it starts and where it ends is really not that important, as long as in the end everybody understands the importance of getting this job done. Which I believe they do."
UPDATE: Newly appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, it seems, is another Democrat who is up in the air on the Employee Free Choice Act, having yet to decide his position. And according to MyDD, David Canter, who is running for Congress from Colorado's sixth district, has been "applying pressure on Bennet and the entire Colorado congressional delegation to come out strongly and vocally in support of The Employee Free Choice Act."