Now That's a Patriot Act (The Nation)

Published in The Nation on August 3, 2007
By William Greider

Now here is a Patriot Act everyone can get behind. It's called the Patriot Corporation of America Act and it rewards the companies that don't screw their employees and weaken the country by moving the jobs to China and elsewhere.

In these troubled times, doesn't that sound like common sense? Government policy presently works in opposite ways. It literally assists and subsidizes the disloyal free riders who boost their profits by dumping their obligations to the home country. It's called globalization. Establishment wisdom says there is nothing politicians can do about it.

But the bills introduced Thursday by three senators and seven representatives, all Democrats, can begin to reverse this political perversity. Don't expect a roll call anytime soon, but I think the governing principle is pivotally important.

And some Democrats have come up with a potent new version of patriotic politics. While the nation is fighting this ugly, costly war in Iraq, employers should be doing their part to defend the homeland. Will Republican warriors want to vote against that?

The House and Senate bills appear to be differ slightly but pursue the same goal. In the House, a "Patriot Corporation" would get tax breaks and preferences in federal contracting for employers who produce at least 90 percent of their goods and services in the US and with American workers. The companies must invest in research and development domestically, provide adequate health care and pensions and--surprise--comply with federal laws like workplace safety, environmental protection and consumer regulations.

The Senate's "Patriot Employers" version would give a 1 percent tax credit on taxable income for companies that maintain or increase their US employment in relation to their overseas workers. They must also keep their corporate headquarters in the US. The Senate bill adds a "living wage" requirement. Its initial co-sponsors are Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dick Durbin and Barack Obama of Illinois. Obama's sponsorship, I would guess, may attract other celebrated names.

House co-sponsors are the same nucleus of progressives pushing party leaders to undertake a thorough revamp of US policy on globalization and trade. They are Schakowsky and Hare of Illinois, Sutton and Ryan of Ohio, Woolsey of California, Kagen of Wisconsin and Ellison of Minnesota. Senator Brown and Rep. Jan Schakowsky endorse both House and Senate versions.

The principle at stake is straightforward. Multinational corporations cannot continue to have it both ways--moving more and more value-added production and jobs offshore to capture cheap labor, while still enjoying all of the rewards and benefits of claiming American identity. It's not just the outrageous tax breaks. The American military defends their freedom to operate around the globe.

These measures can be the beginning of tough new policies on globalization. They are quite limited in scope, but a good start. Thousands of small to mid-sized manufacturing firms that do not offshore their production should salute the initiative since the incentives are intended for them. The rewards are modest gestures at this point. The real fight begins when Congress proposes penalties--higher taxes--for those unpatriotic companies that left home.