Yesterday, Democrats failed working people and demonstrated once more how wide the gulf has become between political rhetoric and tangible legislative results. I'm talking about the failure of the Senate Democrats to even get a vote on the Creating American Jobs and Ending Off Shoring Act. Yes, the Republicans threw every obstruction possible to block the issue following Senator DeMint's call to obstruct everything. But the Democrats took a critical issue facing this country and turned it into an 11th hour band-aid for their political wounds.
Back in January, when I watched President Obama's State of the Union address, I was impressed that he explicitly spoke in favor of a long-overdue change: ending tax incentives for corporate off-shoring. He said;
"...it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America."
Most Americans have no idea that, since the Reagan era, we've been living under a tax code that pays businesses to take their industries to other countries, rather than to generate domestic jobs. Finally, nine months after the President's speech, Congress tried to move this issue in what was clearly, and many would say cynically, an effort to improve their dire political fortunes. Sen. Charles Schumer told the Washington Post;
"There is no issue more important to the American people than the outsourcing of jobs, and that's why we're focusing on it."
The article explains the political "win" behind the issue saying:
"Democrats view the outsourcing issue as a big winner with voters because it speaks to the heavy manufacturing job losses that have devastated communities in Midwest and East Coast industrial states."
The Democrats are right to consider the exporting of U.S. jobs a crucial topic. But they are wrong to treat it as a political afterthought, inserting it into the legislative debate at the last minute before the election in order to simply "rally the base."
The fact that--even then--they have failed to bring relevant legislation to a vote in the Senate reflects a Democratic Party held hostage by its most conservative faction; continuing a 20-year trend of preemptive compromise, futile bipartisanship, and lack of courage in promoting a truly progressive legislative agenda.
For multiple reasons, off-shoring represents a vital issue that should be taken seriously by democratic and progressive leaders. First, and most basically, taking real steps to halt the hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs should not be treated as window dressing. This problem is something that directly affects the lives of countless families. That we've failed to do anything about this for twenty years, even under the Clinton Administration, represents a callous neglect on behalf of elected officials.
Secondly, as a strategic matter, this is a critical issue for organized labor. The battle against off-shoring allows labor to unite all sides of its movement, from manufacturing workers whose jobs are being sent overseas to public sector employees who see how corporate tax loopholes are undermining needed public services.
Beyond energizing the union base, the issue of off-shoring gives the labor movement occasion to reach out to wider progressive communities and to the public at large--taking on the vital role of advocate for all American workers as opposed to being viewed as an insular institution concerned exclusively with the interests of its membership.
As progressives, we need to identify and advocate for issues that simultaneously result in concrete, substantive benefits for average Americans and can energize, strengthen, and grow our movements. Furthermore, when it comes to these priority issues, we need the elected officials that we support to do much more than talk a good game to woo voters -- they need to be true champions for working people.
The alternative is as harmful to our elected leaders as it is to our social movements. Just weeks before the polls open, the Democrats face the difficult task of mobilizing a dispirited base. But of course our members are cynical when bills like this week's off-shoring legislation are only rolled out as the election looms. Waiting until the last minute to offer craven "big winner" appeals, and not taking real action on issues vital to working people like the tax bill, the central thrust of their time in office, is the very recipe for disillusionment.