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Democrats Milk Olympics Uniform Spat

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Charles Schumer is one of a handful of Democrats making hay out of the fact that Team USA’s Olympic outfits are made in China.

Senate Democrats hope the dispute over Chinese-made U.S. Olympic uniforms will continue to be a political boon.

It has not only brought attention to their push to promote domestic manufacturing, but has also led China’s government-run media to blast American lawmakers. But the Senators probably don’t mind the criticism.

The U.S. Olympic Committee and apparel maker Ralph Lauren have faced a public relations backlash since reports surfaced last week that the American athletes’ uniforms for the opening ceremonies were manufactured in China.

The outrage over the Olympic outfits could be a perfect segue to the Senate Democrats’ legislative priority of the week: a tax bill to provide incentives to bring jobs back from overseas. And the brouhaha is already helping Democrats up for re-election this year — such as Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) — highlight their insourcing initiatives.

Stabenow is the lead sponsor of the bill to give tax incentives for companies to move jobs to the United States, while punishing outsourcing. The measure, which could receive a vote this week, also gives Democrats another chance to criticize presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s business record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. And with the focus on Olympic uniforms, Romney could be criticized for the fact that berets for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, which Romney led, were made in Canada, according to published reports.

Brown, who faces a tough race, has been promoting an assortment of populist trade legislation, in addition to an Olympics uniform measure being led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Brown’s stance on the Olympic uniform scandal has brought him highly desirable local news stories in which he and his proposals have been featured.

“We know how to make things in America, which is why it’s such an embarrassment that Chinese factories were used to manufacture Team USA’s uniforms. If awards were given out for breaking trade laws, China would win the gold medal,” Brown said late last week.

One of the Ohio lawmaker’s bills would require the federal government to use only American-made U.S. flags. He plans to unveil another measure designed to promote U.S. manufacturing on Wednesday, an aide said.

Menendez unveiled legislation on Monday that would direct the USOC to procure ceremonial uniforms that are assembled in the United States from domestic fabrics. The Menendez effort has the support of several Democrats, including Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

Schumer launched a late push to have replacement uniforms made by Hickey Freeman, a manufacturer in Rochester, N.Y.

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