The labor movement's mostly unspoken tactic to pass the Employee Free Choice Act -- its legislation of generational importance -- seeped out into public Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was asked about the bill's chances for passage.
"We, of course, are looking for 60 votes," he said. "I think, frankly, they're there. Now remember: these are procedural votes. These aren't votes on the substance of the bill."
Sixty is the Senate's magic number, the tally needed to end a filibuster by invoking cloture and moving to a final vote. Senators who oppose a bill generally vote against cloture, effectively killing the bill. But Democrats and their labor allies hope to wipe that calculus off the board and persuade some opponents of the bill to vote for cloture even if they vote against the final bill. If 60 vote for cloture, only 50 are needed for final passage (Vice President Joe Biden can break a tie.)
"I think getting 60 votes on the procedural aspects of it is certainly there," Reid said.
Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the kind of centrist who might vote against the bill but for cloture, told reporters that he opposed the bill as currently formulated. He left open the possibility of voting for a modified version or of voting for cloture.
Reid said that if he got Republican cooperation with some of the agenda over the next few months, EFCA could come up before the August recess.
"Reid understands his parliamentary procedure well and people who are gloating about Senators not 'supporting' the bill may be missing the trees for the forest," said a Democratic strategist working on the legislation. "It's definitely possible, as Reid is saying, for Senators to vote against the bill itself but for cloture."
"The GOP has successfully moved the markers of a majority to 60 in their quest of continuous obstruction. The reality of procedure is we need 60 votes to proceed to vote on the bill, and then 50 on final passage. There will inevitably be different coalitions together on each vote, but we're confident we'll get the numbers we need on each step to pass the Employee Free Choice Act," said a labor official.
The opposition, though, has seen the unions coming and plans to give centrist senators no quarter behind procedural arguments. "This bill is a mortal threat to American freedom and we will never forgive somebody who votes for cloture or for passage," former House SpeakerNewt Gingrich told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
"There is only one vote on card check and it has a 60-vote threshold," said a lobbyists working against the bill. "Any senator believing they can get away with a procedural argument is underestimating the intelligence of the American people and supporting legislation that will crush small business and increase unemployment."