Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to push the proverbial Big Red Button to trigger a "nuclear option." He's hoping to blow up the Senate's long-employed procedures as he attempts to place controversial nominees on the National Labor Relations Board.
The move, which would have the effect of installing "backdoor" Card Check — ending secret ballot voting in workplace representation elections — via the NLRB is a dangerous one and fraught with potential fallout well beyond labor issues for the Senate, its members and the American people. Instead of resorting to bombastic and dangerous maneuvers, Reid should engage in statesmanship, not brinksmanship.
To give his argument its due, Reid is correct in noting that it has taken far too long to get votes on appropriate nominees for positions on the NLRB. This is largely due, however, to a lack of appropriate nominees.
Two names supported by organized labor and submitted by President Obama have previously sat on the board, illegally so, according to multiple federal courts. (Note: The Coalition for A Democratic Workplace played a significant role in the "Noel Canning" case now headed to the Supreme Court.) Having remained in their seats even after courts have rejected their bona fides, the two have disqualified themselves as acceptable recipients of the public's trust on the board.
The answer to this conflict seems clear enough: Find nominees acceptable to 60 senators. This would involve finding qualified candidates who do not spend their time advocating for Card Check by fiat, micro-union organizing, forcing millions of workplaces to post announcements amounting to advertisements for organized labor, or changing organizing rules to deprive employers and employees of the opportunity to fully discuss the ramifications of those decisions. All in all, these are not extraordinary requirements. On the contrary, they are entirely reasonable.
Sadly, Reid has done his best impression of a Cold War belligerent and threatened a "nuclear option" that would see an end to a 60 vote threshold when considering appointment confirmations. Here one hopes the senator remembers an important lesson from history, though, and allows cooler heads to prevail.
A primary reason the world never saw atomic combat between the Soviet Union and United States was that each knew its first strike would surely be answered. It is just so with senators who must grapple with the very real fact that majorities are fleeting but rule changes are not.
So, while the first use of a post-filibuster world would be the effective imposition of Card Check and micro-unions through the NLRB, surely to follow are calls for activists of all stripes to demand from their senators swift passage of cap and trade, gun control, a national right to work law, immediate progress on the Keystone XL pipeline, privatized Social Security and more.
So, what would the political world look like after nuclear action? Senators who currently play a key role in safeguarding their state's interests may not be able to hold off action. The net effect of this post-filibuster dystopian future would, ironically, be one of more partisanship.
As more moderates are forced to vote for presidential nominees who are outside the mainstream, they will fall victim at the ballot box, only to be replaced by candidates who promise to more closely toe the partisan line.
That all this unpleasantness surrounds a handful of nominees to an agency of which few Americans have heard undoubtedly strikes a casual observer as odd, but it speaks to the power of the special interest behind this drive.
Having bankrolled the campaigns of the president and many in Congress, Big Labor officials have grown apoplectic over the public's steadfast opposition to Card Check. Having failed to attain an unfair boost via the comically misnamed Employee Free Choice Act legislation, attention was turned to the NLRB, where radical nominees hoped to push through an anti-employee agenda via executive action.
This effort was soon rebuffed by federal courts, and now unions are demanding something for their investment. Thus, the current, seemingly mad, showdown.
In the classic Cold War farce, "Dr. Strangelove," the man responsible for provoking the final showdown remembers Clemenceau: "He said that war was too important to be left up to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."
Hopefully Jack Ripper was as wrong as we imagine.
Geoffrey Burr is chairman of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.