WASHINGTON (AP) - Michigan Democrats outlined a broad agenda on Thursday that would attempt to raise the status of manufacturing issues in Congress and among their party's presidential candidates.
Wary that the 2008 presidential field may not pay enough attention to manufacturing, Senators Carl Levin, Debbie Stabenow, Governor Jennifer Granholm and Michigan's congressional Democrats want action on several fronts affecting domestic automakers and manufacturers who form the backbone of the state's struggling economy.
''We are determined that we are going to get manufacturing issues into the presidential campaign as well as fight for them in Congress,'' Levin said of the plan, called the ''American Manufacturing Initiative.''
Democrats have said the Bush administration has not done enough to prevent the loss of nearly three million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2001. Critics have blamed the outflow of jobs on unfair foreign competition from countries such as China.
''We need to make a real investment in education and innovation, take the skyrocketing cost of health care off the back of business and insist that foreign competitors play by the same rules as our manufacturers,'' Stabenow said.
Levin said that the presidential field typically addresses agricultural and local issues that play with voters in the early battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire, and the state's lawmakers needed to put manufacturing issues before their candidates.
The proposal seeks tax incentives and credits for research and development and advanced vehicles, addresses currency manipulation and trade issues with China and South Korea, catastrophic health care costs for workers and an expansion of the distribution of biofuels.
It includes a mandate on flexible-fuel vehicles, requiring automakers to produce 25 percent of their new vehicles to run on fuel blends of up to 85 percent ethanol or other biofuels, increasing the goal to 50 percent by 2012.
Granholm said it would set ''the federal government in motion to help rejuvenate manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes states and across the nation.''
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, said many of the concepts had been proposed by both parties before, and he was ''very disappointed they decided to make it a partisan document.''
''I think there are some really good and exciting things that we can do in a bipartisan way, and we really shouldn't wait until a presidential election 18 months from now,'' Rogers said.
On fuel economy, one of the most pressing issues for automakers pending in Congress, the proposal expresses support for a two-tiered system that would require auto companies to meet standards of 35 miles per gallon or utilize advanced technologies or alternative fuels in new vehicles by 2020.
If carmakers were committed to the goal before 2020 and met certain milestones, they ''would no longer have to meet annual CAFE requirements'' and would need to show they were making progress annually, according to the document.
The full proposal was endorsed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., who has said the nation needs to go beyond the Corporate Average Fuel Economy system and is developing an industry-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Jodi Seth, a Dingell spokeswoman, said the while Dingell supports the principles of the plan, it would ''not necessarily determine what the committee will do.''
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the concept was a good one because it stressed ''the kinds of benchmarks that we can reach'' unlike traditional fuel economy standards, which automakers argue do not take into account consumer interest and penalize some manufacturers that build a large mix of trucks.
Levin said he planned to discuss the details with Democratic candidates and would try to draw support with delegations representing neighboring manufacturing states.