Schumer pressured to prioritize Rust Belt in infrastructure plan

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the most senior Democrat in the federal government, is being pressured by a Midwestern contingent of the party to prioritize struggling legacy cities in the formerly industrial Midwest in any infrastructure bill that emerges in the next Congressional session.

President Donald Trump’s popularity among working class constituencies hardest hit by the collapse of American manufacturing and free trade policies, won him the presidency.  Trump has been calling for a major infrastructure bill since his campaign, and had hoped to take action on the issue earlier this year.

If the Trump administration fails to advance substantive legislation on infrastructure modernization, Democrats facing reelection in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania want it centrally positioned in the national messaging strategy for the 2018 midterms.  Democrats Debbie Stabenow, Bob Casey, Sherrod Brown, and Tammy Baldwin are all facing uncertain elections.

As a longtime member of the Senate’s Banking Committee, and representing New York’s banking industry, Schumer has been supportive of industry interests since his time serving in the House of Representatives.   Only in recent years has Schumer called “for a new North American Free Trade Agreement,” and now opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership.

He took both positions following candidate Trump, which has many in the party’s labor movement wondering whether they can get a better infrastructure deal from Senate Republicans ahead of the midterm elections — or from a Democratic caucus led by the banking industry’s chief patron in the Senate, after the midterm elections.

“In the 23 years since NAFTA was signed, our country has lost too many good-paying manufacturing jobs to other countries.  No other state has felt the pain of those losses more than Michigan.  Given NAFTA’s importance to our workers, our farmers, and our economy, a modernization is long overdue,” argued Senator Stabenow, of Michigan.  “As we move forward, we need to make sure that any changes to NAFTA lead to an improvement in our quality of life and higher incomes, not a race to the bottom.”

Senator Casey, of Pennsylvania, wrote to President Trump in May, urging that he keeps campaign promises not only on NAFTA, but also on the unfair trade practices of China.  Many critics say that Trump has abandoned promises he made to correct China’s unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation and piracy of intellectual property.

Since NAFTA went into effect, the economy of the Commonwealth, and the livelihoods of the workers who reside there, have been hit hard by trade. American workers are put at a disadvantage by multiple factors, including Mexico’s lax enforcement of labor and environmental standards; rules of origin provisions which for some products end up giving NAFTA benefits to products containing components imported from China; rules that compromise the United States’ ability to enforce its trade remedy laws; and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions.

Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, made a similar argument in a NY Times op ed last month.  Brown is known to often note the adage, “as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”

The Trump administration has suggested that the Rust Belt economy might be addressed ahead of the midterm elections — whether in the form of NAFTA rewrites, an infrastructure bill, or an economic program that incentivizes venture capital and private equity investment in the nation’s collapsed manufacturing centers like Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Flint, Youngstown, Niagara Falls, and Gary.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, has advocated another approach: offer manufacturers research and development tax credits, which she argues will encourage manufacturing companies to invest in product innovation and developing new technology.

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