Sen. Arlen Specter's early opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act could serve as an influential pivot point by which Republicans can reclaim electoral prominence, one of the GOP's chief strategists told the Huffington Post.
Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Republican surprised labor and business officials alike when he announced that he would oppose the union-backed legislation. The decision was a major setback for the labor community, which viewed Specter as the best chance for the GOP defection needed to achieve a filibuster-proof 60 votes. The Senator had voted for cloture on EFCA in 2007.
Republicans, not surprisingly, were elated. And in the hours following Specter's pronouncement, the man who broke the news, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, predicted that it would have long-term political ramifications.
"This is the second important shoe to drop in the campaign to take back the Senate and House," Norquist told the Huffington Post. "The first was when everyone stood together on the stimulus in the House... [The Employee Free Choice Act] is the law that, if changed, would make it difficult for the Republicans to compete nationally. It is changing the rules. It announces that, from now on, my football team [in this case, Democrats backed by labor money] will start with 20 points. It is possible to win in that scenario but it is much more difficult to see that happening."
As Norquist sees it, passage of EFCA would have led -- per the law's design -- to easier avenues by which unions could organize. That, in turn, would have caused a consolidation of money and organization around labor-backed candidates.
All of which may be true. But such a prognostication, union officials contend, misses another important dynamic. Labor has not shied away from backing Republican candidates in the past, notably Specter in his 2004 primary and George Pataki during his gubernatorial races in New York. By coming out united against the Employee Free Choice Act, the GOP is casting its lot, even more than in the past, with business over labor. And the numbers in that equation are tilted decidedly towards the latter.
"I think the Republican Party has gotten tugged so far to the right because of the base and it is tough for everybody right now," AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka told the Huffington Post Friday morning. "There aren't any Rockefeller Republicans left, if you will. There are very few of them. And those that are there are continually threatened and bludgeoned and told that they will have to get in line with the far right or they will be taken out, whether it is in a primary or general election. So it is difficult to look at the Party right now. They haven't come up with any ideas recently that have distinguished them."
As for Specter, Trumka insisted that there was still wiggle room to win his vote: "I really don't know what happened to him because he was an original co-sponsor. He voted for cloture a couple times. The reason he gave was a canard at best because the Employee Free Choice Act does not take away the right to a secret ballot. It changes who gets to exercise that right... We were very, very disappointed in [Specter's decision]. And I guess it will shake out. We will find out why he did what he did and what he is willing to do. He left the door open, and we will see."