Democrats take aim at big business and drug prices in new economic campaign

Democrats rolled out a new economic platform Monday in hopes of winning over President Donald Trump‘s populist base with promises to take on big businesses, lower the cost of prescription drugs and create jobs.

The campaign — “A Better Deal” — is intended as a counterpunch to the president’s frequent criticism of the lackluster recovery and stagnant wages under President Barack Obama and Trump’s vow to restore the economy to 3 percent annual growth. Democrats are also searching for ways to reconnect with working-class voters whose deep frustration with their own economic prospects helped drive their support for Trump.

“It is an ambitious economic agenda that represents a renewed Democratic commitment to the hard-working men and women across the United States who have been left out and left behind for too long,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Among Democrats’ top agenda items is greater scrutiny of corporate mergers, including tougher standards that incorporate consumer privacy, product quality and the impact on wages and jobs. Democrats are also seeking post-merger reviews and greater enforcement authority.

Those responsibilities would be carried out by a new competition advocate that Democrats have nicknamed the “Trust Buster.” One of the deals that could be targeted is AT&T‘s $85 billion bid for Time Warner, which is awaiting regulatory approval. Other sectors that could wind up in the crosshairs include the beer industry, airlines and eyeglasses.

“We will revisit our antitrust laws to ensure that the economic freedom of all Americans — consumers, workers and small businesses — come before big corporations that are getting even bigger,” the document read.

Prescription drug prices

In addition, Democrats are proposing an independent agency to tackle the high cost of prescription drugs. The director would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, charged with investigating drug manufacturers and able to slap fines on companies with exorbitant rate hikes. Pharmaceutical companies would also be required to notify the government of substantial price increases.

The plan would revamp Medicare by allowing the program known as “Part D” to negotiate prices directly with drugmakers.

“It is ridiculous that Big Pharma has controlled Washington for so long and has refused to even budge on the notion that we ought to negotiate for lower prices,” Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said in a YouTube video outlining the platform.

The campaign would also expand apprenticeship and vocational programs, as well as establish a tax credit for companies that provide on-the-job training. Additional pieces of the broader proposal will be unveiled in the coming months, such as addressing the cost of higher education, infrastructure investment and creating a national family leave program.

In addition to Pelosi, top Democrats Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren are slated to outline the campaign later Monday, laying the groundwork for the party’s message in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. The rollout takes place in Clarke County, Virginia, part of a congressional district that Democrats have long fought to turn blue. It is represented in the House by Republican Barbara Comstock and won by Trump in November.

However, Democrats do not directly mention Trump in their strategy documents, though the campaign’s title clearly references the president’s signature book, “The Art of the Deal.” Resistance to the Trump administration has energized the party’s base, but Democrats are hoping to complement that with a more optimistic vision of the nation’s economic potential.

“In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there,” Schumer wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. “We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake.”

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