On April 28, 2009, Sen. Arlen Specter announced his switch from Republican to Democrat. Sen. Specter has long been viewed as an influential and a pivotal player in labor reform legislation, and particularly the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), in the current Congress. As a result, how does Sen. Specter’s switch in party affiliation affect his recently announced opposition to EFCA? In a press conference announcing his decision to switch political parties, Sen. Specter stated that he remains opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act as currently proposed:
“I will not be an automatic 60th vote . . . And I would illustrate that by my position on employee’s choice, also known as ‘card check,’ I think it is a bad deal. I’m opposed to it and would not vote to invoke cloture.”
Nonetheless, labor leaders rejoiced at Sen. Specter’s “defection,” calling it a “new day” for EFCA, and expressed their intention to work closely with him to pass “real labor reform.” In contrast, the business community downplayed the party switch, asserting that it “really doesn’t change much” with respect to labor reform.
So, where does this leave EFCA? Senate Democrats need 60 votes to allow debate to begin on EFCA. The Democrats currently have 57 senators and 2 Independent senators who caucus with them. The Minnesota senate seat is still being contested, but it appears that contest will likely be resolved in favor of the Democratic candidate in a few months. Following Sen. Specter’s announced opposition last month, seven other Democrats expressed similar concerns about EFCA as proposed. As a result, and despite Sen. Specter’s switch, it appears that Democrats are still searching for the 60 votes necessary to begin debate on EFCA as introduced. However, many observers believe that Sen. Specter’s recent move across the aisle may increase the likelihood of an EFCA compromise. Stay tuned; only time will tell.