As Employee Free Choice Debate Heats Up, Votes May Not be on Dems’ Side

If you thought there was already a war of words over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — the labor movement’s No. 1 priority and business’ bete noire on the Hill — just wait until the bill actually gets its official introduction tomorrow.

We can expect dramatic rhetoric, and amped-up campaign donations, from interest groups on both sides as the battle comes down to a handful of swing votes in the Senate. One connected Democrat in the upper chamber, Claire McCaskill (MO), said yesterday that her party may not have the votes to break a GOP filibuster of Employee Free Choice … but is she right on?It appears that she is. Here’s a rundown of which senators are on the fence on the eve of the bill’s introduction:

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). This conservative-leaning Dem is up for re-election in 2010, and she has signaled since December that she might not back EFCA this year, although she voted to break a GOP filibuster when it came up in 2007. The Arkansas News reported last week that Lincoln’s campaign staff was telling business donors “not to worry” about her vote on the bill.

Arlen Specter (R-PA). Perhaps the most closely watched vote on Employee Free Choice, he is reportedly facing a strong challenge from conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey, who has been rapping Specter’s past support for EFCA for months now. Will Toomey’s entry into the race be the EFCA “epiphany” that GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently wished on Specter? Labor advocates have to hope not.

Mary Landrieu (D-LA). After co-sponsoring Employee Free Choice and voting with her party to break a filibuster in 2007, Landrieu is now up in the air on this year’s vote, according to the Shreveport Times in her state.

Mark Pryor (D-AR). In its report on Lincoln, the Arkansas News also quotes Pryor as declining to become a co-sponsor of the bill this year and pinning his hopes on a compromise between business and labor. For now, Pryor remains decidedly in the fence-sitters’ camp.

Other notable Senate centrists, such as Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), have not made any remarks of late that would cast doubt on their stance on EFCA. But until Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s next senator, Democrats would need to enlist Specter as well as another GOPer in order to break any filibuster of Employee Free Choice … which looks like a well-nigh impossible task at this point.

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