America: We Need a National Manufacturing Strategy

(I think it's important that we take a hard look at how we bring manufacturing, particularly GREEN manufacturing, back to Iowa's rural communities.  Thought this could essentially be an open thread. - promoted by Mark Langgin)

What did you buy this week? Now – how many of those items were made in America? Not many, I bet. Because even if we wanted to, most of us would be hard-pressed to buy only American-made products.

While U.S. jobs are steadily shipped overseas, the tidal wave of foreign-made goods in our stores and in our homes has become as regular as the tide. And that's a big problem for our country.

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IA-01: Braley reinventing himself as a deficit hawk

President Barack Obama presented his $3.73 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 yesterday. I had a post in progress highlighting some good ideas from the proposal, like more investments in high-speed rail and clean energy programs, and reducing taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industries. There are bad ideas too, such as a pathetically small "cut" of $78 billion for defense spending over 10 years. The word "cut" misleads here because we’re talking about a slightly smaller rate of growth for the defense budget. Our military spending skyrocketed during the last decade and should be reduced substantially if Washington officials are serious about reducing the deficit.

The moral failure of Obama’s budget becomes clear when you look at the $400 billion in cuts he proposes for non-defense discretionary spending (which is half as large a portion of the budget pie as the military). Many of those cuts will hurt the vulnerable: less money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and some student aid programs, to name a couple of egregious examples. Obama also wants a “bipartisan” conversation about “strengthening” Social Security, and Washington bipartisanship on Social Security is sure to harm working people and future retirees.

Since the Republican-controlled House of Representatives won’t enact the president’s spending plans, the budget document is important mainly as a sign of Obama’s priorities and political calculations going into this year’s negotiations with Congress.

Speaking of political calculations, I was struck by Representative Bruce Braley’s statement on the president’s draft budget document—so much that I shifted gears on this post. Braley’s comments were another sign of a noticeable change in tone since he won a third term in Iowa’s first Congressional district. During the last Congress, Braley’s policy statements often emphasized the importance of public investments. In the past two months, he has he put deficit hawkishness front and center. Several examples are after the jump, along with background putting Braley’s new rhetorical style in political context.

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How the election affected Braley's Populist Caucus

Now that Representative Bruce Braley has survived a Republican landslide despite a bucketload of money thrown at him, I thought I’d check to see how others in his House Populist Caucus fared on Tuesday.

Short story: the Populist Caucus lost five members. As a group, they fared better than the Blue Dogs or New Democrats, but not as well as the Progressive Caucus. The details are below.

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Braley outlines Populist Caucus "Blueprint for Recovery"

Representative Bruce Braley advocated a four-point "Blueprint for Recovery" in Politico yesterday. The House Populist Caucus, which Braley formed last year, has endorsed these proposals to "require Wall Street to pay for economic development on Main Street and to pay down our nation’s deficit."

Compensation. We need to change the culture of limitless bonuses by passing the Wall Street Bonus Tax Act (H.R. 4426). America’s middle-class families saw their savings wiped out by Wall Street’s gambling addictions and then watched as their tax dollars went to save troubled banks. The targeted tax would apply only to executives at banks that received Troubled Asset Relief Program funding who took bonuses in excess of $50,000. The Bonus Tax Act would generate billions of dollars of new revenue that would be directed exclusively to reward small businesses that are investing in new jobs.

Speculation. We need to stop excessive and risky speculation on Wall Street by passing the Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act (H.R. 4191). This legislation would reinstate a tiny transaction fee on speculative stock transactions by Wall Street traders, creating $150 billion annually in new revenue that would be dedicated to job creation and reducing the deficit.

Job creation. A “jobless recovery” is not a recovery for the middle class. With a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, it’s clear America’s middle-class families are still struggling to make ends meet.

That’s why we need to take the following two-pronged approach to creating good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced: We need to pass the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act (H.R. 2521), which would establish a wholly owned government corporation to prioritize infrastructure improvement projects that would create good-paying jobs. We also need to pass the Buy American Improvement Act (H.R. 4351) to eliminate loopholes in existing domestic sourcing laws and ensure that taxpayer money is used to purchase American-made products and support American jobs whenever possible.

Click here for more details on the Wall Street transaction fees the Populist Caucus supports. The idea is worthwhile, but I am skeptical that the current economic team in the Obama administration would get behind it.

I’m not clear on why a new government corporation on infrastructure projects needs to be created (as opposed to just appropriating more funds for existing agencies to spend on high-speed rail, affordable housing or other infrastructure needs). I asked Braley’s office for comment on that part of the blueprint and received this reply:

The Populist Caucus believes we need a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) now to invest in merit-based infrastructure projects-both traditional and technological-by leveraging private capital. In recent years, the private sector has raised more than $100 billion in dedicated infrastructure funds, but most of that money is being invested overseas.  We need an NIB to attract those funds into a U.S. market for infrastructure development.

It’s notable that the Populist Caucus is not backing broader populist measures, such as tax hikes for corporations and the top 1 percent of individual earners. Then again, Braley’s caucus prepared and approved this “blueprint” before Oregon residents approved two tax-raising ballot initiatives this week.

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