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Falling Out of Favor

Kimberley Strassel sees card check legislation getting pushed aside, primarily because Democrats are getting cold feet. She writes:

Paradoxically, it’s Mr. Reid’s bigger majority that is now hurting him. In 2007, he got every Democrat (save South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, who was out sick) to vote for cloture. But it was an easy vote. Democrats like Mr. Pryor knew the GOP held the filibuster, and that Mr. Bush stood ready with a veto. Now that Mr. Reid has 58 seats, red-state Democrats in particular are worried they might actually have to pass this turkey, infuriating voters and businesses back home.

Mr. Pryor isn’t alone. Fellow Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln voted for cloture in 2007 but is now messaging Mr. Reid that she’s not eager for a repeat. She recently said she doesn’t think “there is a need for this legislation right now,” that the country has bigger problems. What she didn’t mention is that she is also up for re-election next year, and that one potential GOP challenger, Tim Griffin, is already vowing to make card check an issue. South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and others face similar pressure. And it seems unlikely new Senate arrivals such as Colorado’s Mark Udall are eager to make card check an opening vote, especially with visions of United Auto Worker bailouts fresh in voter minds.

Republican “moderates” aren’t eager for card check either. If this were a minimum-wage vote, Maine’s Susan Collins, for example, would be lining up. But polls show more than 80% of Americans disagree with eliminating union ballots. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has bolstered opposition by turning card check into a litmus test of Mr. Obama’s promise to work with the other side. Even Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, the lone GOP vote for card check in 2007, is backpedaling, worried about a 2010 primary challenge.

It is not just that the prospect of card check legislation’s passage has ignited business groups, alerted conservative media, and given Senators (like Arlen Specter) in unsafe seats second-thoughts about taking away secret ballot union elections. Part of the problem now for proponents of card check is that Democrats are not necessarily thrilled to be closely tied to Big Labor. Big Labor has been in the headlines lately – being intransigent on the car bailout and caught up in multiple scandals. It is understandable that Democrats wouldn’t want to cozy up to their newly notorious allies.

It would be one thing if card check were wildly popular with actual voters. But the reverse is true. So why risk a primary challenge and incur negative publicity when voters aren’t going to like the result anyway?

At first blush, card check’s demise might seem like a tremendous victory for Republicans. It’s not every day a defeated party with declining numbers in Congress beats back the number one agenda item of an interest group that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect their opponents. But it would also be a very good development for Democrats.

Democrats this year will be struggling mightily to steady the economy and silence accusations that they are just as beholden to special interest groups as are Republicans. Expanding unionization and instituting a whole new scheme of mandatory arbitration on American businesses isn’t going to make the former any easier. And delivering an unpopular legislative trophy to Big Labor won’t do much for the latter. What better way to make the case for their own stewardship of the economy, and to help forge a broader majority, than  to sidestep this a huge pothole?


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