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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Call Trump’s Bluff on Outsourcing

Donald Trump’s campaign shrewdly leveraged working-class anger about outsourcing jobs as a cornerstone of his Electoral College victory. But it was always more noise than substance, and now a group of Democratic U.S. Senators are calling his bluff by urging a bipartisan war on outsourcing. As Mike Debonis writes in his PowerPost article, “Citing Trump, Rust Belt Democrats demand crackdown on outsourcers“:

Six Democratic senators from Rust Belt states won by President-elect Donald Trump called Tuesday for a swift congressional crackdown on U.S. companies that send manufacturing jobs abroad, claiming common cause with Trump’s crusade against outsourcing.

…The Democratic senators from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin stopped short of calling for a protectionist tariff regime. But in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, they applauded “the recent attention President-elect Trump has brought to the issue of outsourcing and its impact on middle-class families” and called for legislation that would penalize companies that send jobs abroad.

…Those penalties, they say, should include taking into consideration any history of outsourcing while awarding federal contracts and potentially keeping outsourcers from receiving tax breaks and other federal incentives, and “clawing back” those incentives if companies later ship jobs out of the country.

The Democratic senators include Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-In), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Their challenge is part of a Democratic effort to reclaim credibility as the party most strongly against job-killing outsourcing and “off-shoring.” For decades Democratic have tried to enact legislation to stop “runaway plants,” but were frequently blocked by a coalition of Republicans and some Democrats, who wanted to protect unfettered corporate autonomy and “free” trade.

The proposed Democratic reforms are not as flashy as Trump’s Sunday threat that “any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence, is WRONG!” Trump also threatened to impose a 35 percent tariff on those companies, knowing full-well that it is an empty threat because his fellow Republicans won’t let that happen. No matter, it’s the noise that counts.

But Trump’s tweet does show that he intends to double down on keeping his identity as the leader most opposed to unfair trade, verbally at least. A letter alone isn’t going to enable Democrats to get their fair share of the credit. Democrats are going to need a full-court media press just to keep up with Trump’s noise machine on the trade issue. But they have a real chance of reclaiming the mantle of fair trade, if they propose and more energetically promote realistic legislation to restrict outsourcing and offshoring, coupled with job-training programs to help American workers prepare for both the short and long-term future.

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