The nomination failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate to beat back a Republican filibuster. Two Democrats, Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska joined Republicans in blocking the nominee.
The labor movement had hoped that Becker's inclusion on the NLRB would help bring the nation's most important labor relations board closer to what it sees as that board's main purpose: protection of the collective bargaining rights of American workers.
In recent years, particularly during the period when the Bush administration appointed the majority of the board's members, the NLRB, labor says, moved away from its core mission and too often sided with employers against workers.
Analysts say the vote on Becker indicates that nothing friendly to organized labor can get through current Senate rules if Republicans act in unison. There were 57 votes in favor of Becker's nomination, three short of the 60 needed, a total that would not have been reached even if the two Democratic senators had not defected.
Democratic senators are saying they will now explore rules changes to end the Republican obstruction.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., expressed frustration and anger after the vote yesterday. "I'm in my thirty-sixth year. I've never seen anything like it," he declared, noting that no previous Republican Senate leader would have allowed his party to filibuster such a "routine" nomination.
Leahy said that the overuse of filibusters by the GOP was causing Democrats to examine ways of changing the rules.
"The abuse of the filibuster is unsustainable," declared Michigan's Democratic Senator, Carl Levin. "I think it will either fall of its own weight or it will fall after some massive conflict on the floor. The filibuster should be restricted to major issues."
With the election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts recently at least one Republican vote will be needed to break any filibuster.
Photo: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds a screw that apparently fell loose from a GOP colleague during the fillibuster. Alden Pellett/AP