The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senate Democrats unveil ‘better deal’ on trade with new restrictions on outsourcing and foreign deals

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a letter about tax policy sent by Democrats to the Republican leadership as he speaks with reporters following the party luncheons on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Democrats will add another plank to their “better deal” agenda Wednesday, proposing a tough renegotiation of NAFTA and a new trade prosecutor in an attempt to seize back what had been a political advantage for the party.

“Trade is at the core of our economic agenda,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, ahead of a planned 11:30 a.m. launch of the trade policies. “We’re going to propose a better deal for American workers — one that puts their well-being at the center of our trade laws, not just the bottom line of huge corporations. Our trade laws have shortchanged American workers for far too long, and we Democrats are aiming to change that.”

The trade outline includes seven ideas, according to a white paper shared with The Washington Post. The first is an “independent trade prosecutor” who would supplement the work of the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that “workers, small companies and major corporations have equal access to the enforcers of our trade laws.” The second: An “American Jobs Council” that would have the authority to block foreign investments if it could be proven that they could cost jobs.

“The Council would have the authority to consider major investments, mergers and acquisitions by foreign entities, and specifically be able to evaluate a transaction’s potential impact on job losses in economically distressed industries and regions, intellectual property leakage, loss of market share in critical industries, and the foreign investor’s home country’s domestic policies on foreign investment that may distort U.S. markets, among other factors,” Democrats wrote in the white paper.

It is one of several proposals to empower the federal government to block deals that could hurt American workers down the road.

Democrats will also propose rules to “penalize federal contractors who outsource by requiring federal agencies to consider a company’s record of outsourcing for three years prior to application for federal contract,” as well as adding companies that outsource to a “shame” list. On top of that, Democrats will promise to “require that taxpayer dollars be spent on U.S. companies and U.S. jobs for all federal public works and infrastructure projects,” step up enforcement of currency manipulation, and change the tax code to capture the profits (and deny tax benefits) if companies engage in outsourcing.

The “Better Deal on Trade and Jobs” will be rolled out by Schumer and four senators up for reelection next year in states won by President Trump in 2016: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.). All have run successful, populist campaigns against outsourcing; all are being targeted by Republicans in the hopes that Trump-style populism can outflank them next year. Republicans, for example, have blasted Donnelly as a hypocrite for opposing outsourcing while holding stock in a family company that had sent some jobs to Mexico. (Donnelly divested the stock after an Associated Press report on his investments.)