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The Year of the Moderate

If anyone thought that a liberal President Obama, backed by large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, was just going to write his way through Washington this year — think again.

It’s a moderate’s world on Capitol Hill right now, and the latest evidence arrived yesterday when the Democratic sponsors of a controversial labor-friendly proposal dropped the bill’s central tenet: A provision allowing unions to organize by getting a simple majority of workers to sign cards in support. Under current law, workers organize unions by secret ballot. The Democrats’ proposal would have given workers the additional option of a public ballot, making it easier to unionize.

The so-called “card check” bill — supported by President Obama — has been labor’s biggest legislative priority this year, prompting a fierce battle with business groups that have spent bill millions to kill the measure. Moderate Democrats like Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) have come out squarely in opposition to the bill, making the party’s 60-member majority irrelevant. Yesterday, those moderates won an enormous concession with the removal of the card-check provision. From The New York Times:

In its place, several Senate and labor officials said, the revised bill would require shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections.

While disappointed with the failure of card check, union leaders argued this would still be an important victory because it would give companies less time to press workers to vote against unionizing.

The move might have changed the support dynamics on Capitol Hill, but it hasn’t changed the lobbying dynamics. Indeed, labor groups are still supporting the underlying bill — the Employee Free Choice Act — while many businesses are still opposing it. The Workforce Fairness Institute, a business group formed to fight EFCA, just shot out an email announcing its continued opposition based on language that forces government arbitration when workers and employers can’t agree on a union contract.

“The most damaging aspect of the bill — the binding arbitration provision, will remain intact,” the group rued.

With Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) suffering poor health, there’s no guarantee that even the diluted proposal can win 60 Senate votes.

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