06/27/2007 10:28 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lacking Strategery, Or Deliberately Avoiding It?

The EFCA is a bill that helps workers avoid Wal-Mart-style intimidation efforts when they dare to consider forming a union to collectively bargain with their employer. Not surprisingly, it is a bill that Corporate America despises and that thus unifies the bought-and-paid-for Republican Party in opposition.

Why, then, would Democratic leaders bring up the Employee Free Choice Act as a standalone bill? By doing that while knowing this was a bill the GOP would be so adamantly against, they engineered a legislative situation that allowed that GOP opposition to occur with the minimum amount of political consequences.

Consider the alternative. Imagine that Democrats attached EFCA to another piece of legislation that is very popular and non-controversial - a bill that Americans would be appalled to see anyone vote against. That would increase the likelihood that some Republicans would peel off for fear of voting against the very popular vehicle, and would embarrass the remaining Republicans who voted against the overall package. These Republican opponents would be left making an argument about the technicalities of labor law while Democrats were battering them for opposing the attached bill. We've seen this very thing happen, in fact. Remember the 2002 debate over the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security. Democrats were arguing about union rights while Bush was hammering them for delaying a bill that he said would protect America's national security. Bush ended up getting his version of the bill while drubbing Democrats in the 2002 mid-term election.

So again the question is why? Why would Democratic leaders bring up EFCA as a standalone bill - that is, in a form that is most politically easy for the average Republican to oppose? Is it just that Democrats have no sense of "strategery?" Or is it something more insidious?

Does it have something to do with Democrats wanting to set up a situation that allows them to claim they care about workers and labor rights, while making sure that those labor rights continue to get trampled? This wouldn't be all. In fact, we saw this situation recently on the Iraq bill, where Democrats manipulated parliamentary procedure to deliberately engineer a situation that let them simultaneously claim they were doing all they could to oppose the war while helping make sure the war continues. Are we experiencing the same thing now with worker rights? And if we are, does it have something to do with the spate of stories about Big Business showering top Democratic leaders in cash and throwing Democratic Hill staffers offers of six-figure corporate lobbying jobs?

I honestly don't know the answer, as it can sometimes be very tough to tell whether the behavior from folks in Congress is driven by short-sightedness or corruption. That said, its not like Senate defeat of EFCA was a surprise - Democrats knew from the get-go that it would lose as a standalone bill, meaning it really is possible they don't truly want it to pass in the first place. Additionally, Roll Call reported earlier this month that a "senior House Democratic aide" was assuring top corporate lobbyists that "this card check bill is never going to see the light of day."

Thus, moving forward, the bottom line is clear: If Democrats really want to get EFCA passed - as American workers need them to and as they should as the supposed party that represents those workers - it's going to take a hell of a lot more than setting up legislative scenarios that make sure EFCA doesn't pass. Some may argue that attaching the EFCA to something else is legislatively uncouth. To them I say, start getting serious about power. In a legislative body, the power comes from the rules - and we elected Democrats in 2006 to use that power to enact a progressive agenda, not just talk about it while citing Beltway manners and Senate floor etiquette as the reason for inaction.

In the coming weeks, we can look to the strategic maneuvers to find out whether Democrats are serious about passing this legislation, or whether they merely want to LOOK like they are serious about passing this legislation. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Looks like this is the first time - perhaps ever - that I agree with a premise laid out by the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal says correctly that "the way the vote was managed says a lot about how little Democrats really wanted to debate this 'card check' legislation." They added that , "It's not surprising that Democrats staged their losing vote the same day as a key immigration vote that was certain to get far more public attention. Democrats also did little PR work, and the vote itself had a ritual quality to it, like some of those Republican votes on cultural issues when Tom DeLay was House Majority Leader: Hold a largely symbolic vote, check off a box to pay off your election supporters, and move on." Now, of course, I don't agree that this behavior is a good thing, as the Journal editorial board does. But I do think the Journal is in the realm of accurate in stating that Democrats didn't REALLY try to pass this bill.