Now that he is a freshman senator, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy says he plans in the coming weeks to continue the push he started as a member of the House to advance a "Make It in America" jobs agenda.
That agenda includes cracking down on China's currency manipulation and violations of trade rules, tightening up "Buy America" federal contracting provisions and encouraging federal investments that would boost the manufacturing sector.
Murphy spoke today on a call that included progressive writers and activists organized by the Campaign for America's Future and the Alliance for American Manufacturing. (Listen to audio of the call.)
Murphy said that President Obama deserves credit for highlighting the need to create manufacturing jobs during his first term. Last year, the president promised to help create 1 million new manufacturing jobs by 2016 (a modest goal given the 5.5 million manufacturing jobs lost in the past decade). He said the president needs to underscore his commitment to that goal during his upcoming State of the Union speech.
"I'd like the president to make a pitch for investment in this country," he said. That pitch includes the need for the federal government to invest in the infrastructure needed for economic growth, as well as the need to ensure American tax dollars are spent in ways that produce and sustain American jobs. "American procurement can grow American industry," Murphy said.
In his own state of Connecticut, Murphy said, there are shipping bottlenecks at the state's ports because spending on maintenance and expansion has not kept up with the growth of commerce. That is just one example of nationwide under-investment in the transportation network that has to be addressed in order to sustain robust economic growth.
But to get the maximum impact of increased infrastructure investments, and federal spending generally, on American jobs, Murphy is calling for a tougher "Buy America" statute than what is currently under the books.
That law generally requires that at least 50 percent of a product that is purchased with federal dollars be manufactured in America. That percentage is too low, Murphy said; it should be at least 75 percent and certainly no less than 60 percent. There are also copious exceptions and loopholes that need to be closed, he said, such as one that allows 100 percent foreign-made goods to be purchased by the federal government as long as they are used overseas. That exemption allowed the Defense Department to bypass Buy America rules for much of its procurement for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Murphy also said that he wants President Obama to continue his tough talk on China's trade policies. The president has already been more aggressive in calling out China's bad behavior than recent previous presidents, and "the American public is begging for that trend to continue."
We also have to bolster the federal role in supporting job training programs, including bolstering the employability of workers who do not have a collage education.
When Murphy was asked about the ability of getting elements of this agenda through the Republican-controlled House, Murphy responded, "There is an examination happening within the Republican Party on why they lost votes and seats in 2012 ... and one of the reasons is they are on the wrong end of the outsourcing debate."
Yet some of the campaign rhetoric of Republican lawmakers when they were candidates indicates that they understand the potency of the issue and that American public opinion is not with the organizations representing the interests of corporate outsourcers, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth. While those organizations have the campaign cash and lobbying muscle, the public has clear leverage as long as it continues to press its demands for a jobs-now, Make-It-In-America set of policies. "Republicans can't win if they continue to be the party of outsourcing."
Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, also on the call urged President Obama to make jobs, fair trade and reviving American manufacturing a key priority in his State of the Union speech.
"Today, the Campaign calls on the president to use his State of the Union address to lay out a elements of a new strategy for the United States to enable us to compete sensibly in the global marketplace." Since a 2009 meeting of world leaders in Pittsburgh on trade, Borosage said, little has changed, with the U.S. running a trade deficit of about $1 billion a day.
"For all the talk about insourcing, companies have used the recession to continue to ship good jobs abroad. China and its Asian trading partners make up over 80 percent of the non-oil manufacturing trade deficit. Our trade relationship with China is the most unequal in the history of nations," Borosage said.
"It is time for the U.S. to move to balancing its trade, as pledged in Pittsburgh. And to adopt a sensible national manufacturing strategy for the global economy. We believe this should be a centerpiece of the president’s State of the Union address, calling on the country to move from its increasingly self-destructive focus on austerity towards building a new foundation for growth," he said.