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While it is expected that business and labor interests will have differing opinions on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), it is generally anticipated that the president and vice president would be on the same page. Some off-the-cuff remarks by Vice President Biden last week, however, appear to indicate a rift in thinking between the two.
In response to a question about EFCA during an interview with CNBC, Biden said that the administration would push for it “prudently,” and that there is “only so much on the plate these first couple of months.” He continued that both he and the president “ . . thought 10 months ago that this would be a top-priority item in terms of immediate action. We know there’s probably going to be some compromise here.” When the interviewer commented that he appeared to be saying the act would not be up for consideration until 2010 at the earliest, Biden protested: “No, no, no, no. This year. This year, we hope. Our expectation is this year, this calendar year, that we will move, and hopefully with some bipartisan support, to dealing with this issue.”
During his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about whether Biden’s remarks represented the administration’s position. In response, Gibbs referred to Obama’s statement to the Washington Post earlier this year, in which he evaded the issue of a timetable, instead stating that his first priority was the economy, given that “[i]f we’re losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize . . .” He also commented in that interview, “Let’s see what the legislative docket looks like.”
Obama remained tellingly silent on the issue the day after Biden’s remarks when speaking to an audience of union chiefs and key members of Congress to announce that he was issuing three executive orders reversing Bush-era labor policies. While talking about the need to “level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests,” he did not mention EFCA as a means of doing so.
Members of Congress have indicated that they may try to introduce EFCA in some shape or form as early as this spring. Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated his belief that EFCA would not be introduced in the House until April at the earliest. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate hoped to address EFCA “sometime this summer.”