Working In These Times
Another Missed Opportunity: Anti-Offshoring Bill Could Have Been Boon for Dems
In 2006, the “offshoring” of U.S. jobs was the top concern of American voters, along with the Iraq War. The issue has only gained more urgency during the massive job losses we have experienced since 2008.
In line with previous polls showing a majority of Republicans opposing the shift of U.S. jobs overseas, the GOP’s own website reveals some results that would upset America’s CEOs, as Pat Garofalo notes. The GOP proposal receiving the most interest in the website's job-creation section is to “stop the outsourcing of jobs from America to other countries that do not pay taxes into the U.S. and stop the tax breaks that are given to these companies that are outsourcing.”
Yet a relatively modest bill, the "Create Jobs in America and End Offshoring Act," to remove these incentives for the offshoring suffered an ignominious defeat September 28, as Amy Dean noted on this website earlier this week. The bill captured a 53-45 majority, but fell seven votes short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes that has become the new standard for getting anything passed in the Senate.
Predictably, the Republicans goose-stepped in unison to vote against the legislation. In other words, they voted unanimously against a measure popular across the political spectrum, including a major chunk of their own political base.
By failing to give the issue sufficient build-up and to nail down a victory, the Democrats lost a potential "wedge" issue that they could have used to divide the Republican voters this fall.
The rationale of Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was particularly revealing, betraying the GOP's fixation with the fate of executives and indifference to the plight of production workers: “Having a foreign subsidiary creates managerial jobs at a company’s U.S. headquarters, Grassley said.”
But much more distressing has been the conduct and strategy of the Democrats. Given their usual allegiance to corporate interests over the deeply-held beliefs of Democratic voters, it should be no surprise that Democrats Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Warner (Va.), Ben Nelson (Ne.) and Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.) added their votes to the Republicans. They have all repeatedly learned that there is no penalty whatsoever from the Democratic National Committee or major donors for ignoring fundamental Democratic beliefs.
But also jumping ship was freshman Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who had been widely hailed as a new progressive voice. However, Tester issued a statement proclaiming his desire to keep good jobs in the US, but said that the $700 billion price tag “wasn’t paid for” —a position almost any Republican in Congress could comfortably have embraced.
The defeat was the culmination of the long-term deferral and down-sizing of the job-relocation issue. This issue had been central key to Democratic voters in the 2008 primary elections, when the economy was in far less disastrous shape. While both Obama and Hillary Clinton spent the early half of 2008 relentlessly denouncing the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that enthrone investors and hollow out democracy, the question of re-structuring the whole architecture of corporate globalization re-shaping “free trade” deals nearly disappeared once Obama was sworn into office.
When the issue of offshoring re-emerged, it was shrunken down to the question of incentives for outsourcing and moving jobs back to the US. Denying tax deductions for the costs of relocating equipment overseas and ending the tax deferral on overseas income would have been welcome steps, as would have a tax holiday on payroll taxes for firms bringing jobs back.
But that falls far short of the immense changes discussed by President Obama during his campaign and the expectations he generated among the public.
As Amy Dean notes in her astute analysis of the bill’s defeat, Obama outlined the rationale behind the Create Jobs in America bill in his 2010 State of the Union speech. However, the Democrats withheld action in the Senate until the last moment, a decision that tended to make the public perceive it as a mere political gesture.
Moreover, the entire range of issues related to job exports received scant attention this year despite its proven potency as an electoral issue as shown in 2006. The issue of offshoring never developed into an important theme for either Obama or congressional Democrats this year. This has meant that the pervasive corporate strategy of exporting jobs to places like China and Mexico has never emerged as a credible and salient explanation for the ongoing shortage of good jobs.
In essence, in their eagerness to avoid offending corporate CEOs—except for this brief last-minute flurry of activity around the Create American Jobs bill—the Democrats failed to build a compelling rationale and a mobilized base for the bill.
The bottom line: The anti-offshoring bill doesn't reflect a deep commitment of the Dems to stopping the torrent of jobs leaving the United States. Its proposal and defeat isn't likely to benefit incumbent Democrats in the weeks leading up to November 2.