09/18/2011 05:32 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2011

Democrats May Get Flanked on Trade Policy

On September 16, Carl Levin joined fellow Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow in calling for an investigation into the strong-arm tactics China uses to force American firms into technology transfers. Levin, a Democrat, has often been less than forceful in dealing with China. The Senator supported permanent Most Favored Nation (MFN) status for the communist regime, and opposed amendments that would have forced action on China's human rights violations, though more recently he has solidly supported calls for addressing China's currency manipulation.Earlier this year he took Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to task for stating that China presents a "mortal threat" to America.

However, the brazen attempt by the Boys from Beijing to exhort the technological secrets of the Chevy Volt out of General Motors has left his constituents fuming and the senator had no choice but to publicly join a growing chorus of those howling about China. Whether Levin and the Senate actual go beyond investigations and hearings and do something about the Middle Kingdom's systemic abuse of trade rules will remain very much to be seen. Most of Capitol Hill, like the Obama Administration, has been fully co-opted by the corporate multinational lobby and the likes of General Electric's master of offshoring and tax avoidance, Jeff Immelt.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, moderate Republicans are beginning to sense that, like Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush era trade policy is now an albatross for the Democratic president and his party.

In the most recent Republican debate, leading presidential candidate Mitt Romney crossed his party's "free trade" picket line and called out China for "free-riding on the international system." Romney's Believe in America campaign book offers a laundry list of boldly specific actions, from finally declaring China a currency manipulator to imposing countervailing tariffs. (Romney's position has been very nicely analyzed by Ian Fletcher in a Huffington Post blog.)

While Romney's move is a refreshing change from the mindless GOP chant of "Free Trade, Free Trade, Free Trade" he is neither the first Republican to break ranks with the free traitors nor the boldest. On September 1st, lesser-known Buddy Roemer daringly set up a podium in front of the Chinese embassy and read out the communist regime, its multinational corporate cronies, and its Washington apologists.

Frankly, watching Roemer attack the Chinese economic juggernaut for more than an hour on C-SPAN in his slow, self-effacing, Southern style is worth making popcorn for. Putting aside your party affiliation, you've gotta love it when Buddy works up a folksy description of China as "the bear eating our jobs" and questions why nobody else can even "see the bear."

In addition to his downhome style, Roemer also actually offers Americans a plan rather than a hearing. Instead of fighting a hopeless, point-by-point trade war with China he proposes establishing economic motivators that will restore balance to the trade relation and our fiscal budget via increased revenues. Firstly, the Republican boldly suggests that the federal tax deductions for labor, cost of goods sold, and capital equipment apply only to products and services produced in America. Secondly, he wants to end the foreign tax credit that allows multinational corporations, like General Electric, and wealthy individuals to pay taxes abroad and not at home. Thirdly, Roemer would have all imports evaluated by a certified, independent analyst and charged for the total cost of their unfair trade advantage -- from currency manipulation to environmental abuse and working conditions.

A Republican calling out huge American corporations by name, threatening to raise their taxes and cut off their Chinese gravy train is heady stuff and it should be frightening for the Dems, because Roemer is electable. With a Harvard degree in economics as well as an MBA from that school, he has the credibility to take on the free trade lobby. As a former Democratic member of Congress and governor of Louisiana, he has a broader perspective than anyone else in the GOP race and will be far more appealing to moderate America than the tea party favorites that now decorate the stage at Republican debates.

Where does this leave the left? Well, unfortunately for the Obama administration, whether they ultimately face Romney or Roemer or perhaps the both of them, the Democrats have been caught holding a bag of Clinton-Bush "free trade" leftovers. Roemer spares no mercy for a President that he says has sold American workers out to Hu Jintao and his U.S. corporate henchmen:

Our president has no clue as to what the problem is. He looks at the symptoms and thinks they're the problem. He doesn't understand why throwing more and more stimulus money into the economy does not stimulate any improvement. Here's why: He thinks we must spend hundreds of millions of dollars retraining unemployed workers. Retraining them for what? There are no jobs! Our jobs are in China!

Ouch, that hurts! And it's going to hurt a lot worse next November if the White House doesn't find some excuse to distance itself from its disastrous trade policy, a tricky task indeed.

This post has been modified since its original publication.