Under Banner of "Economic Patriotism," Warren Releases Plan to Overhaul Federal Economic Programs

warren 2020 trade economy
Getty/Miikka Skaffari

Out: The Commerce Department, currently helmed by billionaire investor Wilbur Ross.

In: The Department of Economic Development, a new federal department proposed by 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to advocate for the American worker.

On Tuesday, Warren, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts, unveiled a sweeping proposal to overhaul the federal government's approach to economic development, jobs training, labor policy and foreign trade. Her plan, promoted under the banner of "economic patriotism," would fundamentally change the role of the government in the private sector.

The marquee element of Warren's plan would install a massive new Cabinet-level department to subsume all federal jobs-related programs, including the entire Commerce Department, into a singular entity with the chief mission of protecting and growing the American workforce.

A Department of Economic Development, Warren argues, is critical to unifying the government's commitment to American manufacturers, who are currently supported by a set of 58 programs sprawled across 11 different federal agencies, according to the Government Accountability Office. Another 47 separate programs provide employment and training assistance. The GAO found that "almost all" of these programs overlap in the services they provide with at least one other program. Warren's new bureaucratic endeavor would, in part, eliminate these redundancies by consolidating disparate efforts into a single entity.

"As President, I would pursue an agenda of economic patriotism, using new and existing tools to defend and create quality American jobs and promote American industry," Warren wrote in the plan's roll-out. "My Administration will pursue fundamental, structural changes in our government's approach to the economy, finally putting American workers and middle-class prosperity ahead of multinational profits and Wall Street bonuses."

The language of economic "patriotism" – a moniker frequently invoked by the political right – appears to attempt a reclamation of the economic high-ground from Republican messaging, which has long dominated Americans' attitudes on the subject. As recently as June 2018, Republicans were polling nine points ahead of Democrats on their perceived economic acumen, despite President Trump's historic unpopularity. Late last year those numbers began to invert, and Warren may be hoping to capitalize on this growing unease with the president's self-proclaimed "America First" agenda, which has led, in part, to American farmers depending on government handouts to remain afloat during the trade war with China.

Warren simultaneously released a plan to augment her reimagination of workforce development programs with an investment in more than a million new jobs to combat climate change. Dubbed the "Green Manufacturing Plan," Warren plans to tap into the $23-trillion clean energy market over the next decade to "develop, manufacture, and export the technology the world needs to confront the existential threat of climate change." Her administration would invest $2 trillion over ten years to support the research and development needed to bolster this emerging sector of the economy.

The overarching strategy set forth by Warren identifies a few key actors who have, she alleges, stood in the way of economic prosperity for the middle class. Warren blames "international capital" in part for the degradation of the American workforce, arguing that foreign investors have pushed up the value of the U.S. currency to suit their own goals. Indeed, a Washington Post article cited by Warren explains that more than a third of the U.S. stock market is held by foreign investors, suggesting potential conflicts for companies that want to protect shareholder value while investing in domestic production.

"These 'American' companies show only one real loyalty: to the short-term interests of their shareholders," she wrote. "If they can close up an American factory and ship jobs overseas to save a nickel, that's exactly what they will do — abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities along the way."

Revamping the status quo, while no easy feat, is not an unimaginable quest, Warren argues. Countries like Germany and China, while facing many of the same downward economic pressures as the U.S., nevertheless support domestic manufacturing and job training to a degree that dwarfs America's investment in these programs, by comparison.

It is unclear how Warren would go about remodeling the U.S. government to suit these new priorities, as her plan lays out no roadmap for a bureaucratic restructuring that would likely require significant congressional approval. There are individual priorities, however, that could move forward without signoff from Congress, including expanding requirements that U.S. companies profiting from publicly-funded R&D reinvest their gains in domestic manufacturing.

An aide to Warren told Newsweek that, as president, she would help abolish the filibuster to accomplish this restructuring if Democrats are unable to muster 60 votes and Republicans aren't inclined to cooperate.

"If Washington wants to put a stop to this, it can," Warren argued. "If we want faster growth, stronger American industry, and more good American jobs, then our government should do what other leading nations do and act aggressively to achieve those goals instead of catering to the financial interests of companies with no particular allegiance to America."

Under Banner of "Economic Patriotism," Warren Releases Plan to Overhaul Federal Economic Programs | Politics