Will Labor Priority Damage Dem Agenda?

ABC News' Teddy Davis Reports:

Fmr. Clinton official Matt Miller discusses his new book, "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas," at the Center for American Progress on Jan. 8, 2009.Ferdous Al-Faruque/ ABC News

A leading Democratic thinker warned Thursday that if Barack Obama makes good on his promise to push the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation opposed by business which would make union organizing easier, it could so "poison the well" between business and labor that it makes it impossible for Democrats to enact the broader progressive goals of universal health care or a full-scale economic recovery program.

"I think you're right, I think the flashpoint might be the card check thing," Matt Miller told New York Times columnist David Brooks during a discussion of Miller's new book which was sponsored by the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. "Going for things like the Employee Free Choice Act could poison the well for universal health coverage because it will just lead to a decimating fight on both sides.

While Miller opposes measures like the Employee Free Choice Act which could lead to putting the full cost of raising wages for low-skilled workers on employers, he is a long-time supporter of government-provided wage subsidies which would spread the cost of providing a "decent minimum" among all taxpayers. During Thursday's book talk, he reiterated his support for a "very robust, mega Earned Income Tax Credit so that folks who are unskilled still end up at 10 or 11 dollars an hour".

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to unionize if a simple majority sign authorization cards, eliminating the secret ballot.

Organized labor and most Democrats believe the proposed law would strengthen the hand of workers by making it possible for them to join a union without interference from management.

The legislation has been aggressively opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and most Republicans who think eliminating the right of companies to demand an election with a secret ballot would make it possible for union bosses to pressure workers into signing union authorization cards even if the union's agenda could be harmful to the company's competitiveness. 

Concerned that the Employee Free Choice Act, which has previously passed the Democratic House, would also clear a Democratic Senate if the party got closer to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, the Chamber made it the subject of a series of 2008 Senate television ads.

Miller, who served in the Clinton White House as a senior advisor in the Office of Management and Budget, issued his warning after Brooks observed that wealthy Democratic donors do not mind the tax increases Democrats are planning on the rich but "what they hate is card check."

Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a contributing editor at Fortune, is the author of the recently published "Tyranny of Dead Ideas," a book which argues that outdated thinking about government, business and public policy is holding the U.S. back and limiting its public debate. Miller's first book, "The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems In Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love," was published in 2003.

ABC News' Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this report.

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