After President Obama backed off his campaign promise to aggressively push “cram down” (ie. the bill allowing bankruptcy judges to force banks to rewrite home loans so as to prevent foreclosure), it’s fair to be concerned that his calculated behavior on that bill might preview such behavior on other bills. As the Washington Independent reports, it wasn’t that Obama was too busy or too distracted to push cramdown – it was a deliberate tactical decision to publicly push the popular bill, but then not actually use any political capital in Congress to make the bill a reality. The motive for the two-step is obvious: Obama aims to get public credit for populist positions, while wink-and-nodding his way to moneyed-interest appeasement – in this case, the banking industry.
So I’m wondering – is this what’s going on on the Employee Free Choice Act? Obama has consistently told public audiences that he supports it, but it’s pretty clear he hasn’t used his political capital in Congress to push it very hard. Some may float the Secret Pony Plan theory – the idea that Obama is waiting for the perfect time to push it, or is employing some other good-natured strategery aimed at passing the bill but that us fools outside the Beltway can’t possibly understand.
I’d like to believe that – and indeed, that may end up being true – but the fact that there is now an army of Democratic Party-affiliated corporate lobbyists being paid to stop EFCA makes me think something else may be dictating Obama’s hesitation. And the fact that a few of the billionaires closest to Obama are publicly opposing EFCA makes me even more suspicious:
May 7 (Bloomberg) — Three Chicago billionaires who helped fund President Barack Obama’s election campaign are fighting legislation he backs that would make it easier for unions to organize hotels they own.Penny Pritzker, Obama’s campaign finance chairwoman and a director of Global Hyatt Corp., has told the president she is opposed to the measure, known as card check, said a person familiar with the situation. Neil Bluhm, a partner in Walton Street Capital LLC, also opposes the bill, the person said. Lester Crown, chairman of Henry Crown & Co., criticized the proposal in an interview.
These aren’t people who casually oppose EFCA – these are people whose families became billionaires, in part, because laws like EFCA aren’t on the books and thus workers haven’t been able to bargain for better wages. That’s not an exaggeration – the Pritzker family made its billions in the hotel industry – an industry whose business model is based on making sure workers don’t form unions and continue to be paid substandard wages.
The Bloomberg piece features a low-level White House spokesman insisting that Obama supports EFCA, and I think that’s true – I think Obama in his heart probably does support EFCA. But the lesson of the cramdown debate is that what he may or may not feel in his heart is far less important than whether he’s willing to push legislation with the full-force of his political capital.
To be clear: We don’t know if we’re going to get a cramdown-style two-step on EFCA – but we do know that A) Obama hasn’t pushed EFCA that vigorously B) Democratic corporate lobbyists with strong connections to the D.C. insiders who serve in his administration are against it and C) the billionaires who underwrote his campaign are against it. It’s not an ideal dynamic, and if we refuse to push Obama on EFCA out of some sycophantish sense of “loyalty” and the White House ultimately doesn’t push EFCA vigorously, we can’t say we didn’t have ample evidence suggesting we should have made more demands.
(h/t on catching the Bloomberg story to FDL’s Jane Hamsher)
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