Democrats take aim at big companies in economic blueprint

WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats unveiled an economic platform on Monday that included plans to address unfair market competition, rising pharmaceuticals costs and stagnant wages.

Democrats proposed new standards that companies must meet to complete large mergers and enhanced post-merger reviews, singling out the airline, telecommunications, beer, food and eyeglass industries as areas of concern in the proposal dubbed "A Better Deal" for working Americans.

Last year, Republicans proposed legislative goals with a similar title: "A Better Way."

The Democrats' platform is a move to regroup ahead of the 2018 midterm congressional elections, after Hillary Clinton's loss to Republican President Donald Trump in 2016. Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

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Democrats who could challenge Trump in 2020

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - In her new book, Warren reveals for the first time that she considered running in 2016, when liberals were begging her to enter the race. This year, Warren joined the Armed Services Committee, filling a major national security gap in her resume. First though, she'll have to win reelection next year in Massachusetts, where some Warren allies expect Republicans to spend heavily to defeat or at least damage her.

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) - Booker is a crowd favorite whenever he speaks to Democratic audiences and is expected to headline several party fundraising events this year. One of the few African-Americans in the Senate, Booker has a big social media following and is a darling of the Manhattan donor class. His precedent-breaking testimony against Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a high-profile event that endeared him to many on the left.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) - Sanders won millions of votes during his unexpectedly strong presidential primary bid last year, which gave him a massive following and small-dollar donor base that's the envy of many Dems. He's the most popular politician in America, according to some surveys, and inspires enthusiastic loyalty. But Sanders would be 78 in 2020, and while his age doesn't seem to slow him down, Democrats may want a fresher face. 

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Former Gov. Martin O'Malley (MD) - No one has shown more interest in 2020 so far than O'Malley, who has been traveling to key states to campaign for Democrats and who told NBC News in January that he "just might" run for president again. O'Malley failed to crack 1% in the Iowa caucuses last time around. But he was convinced there no room for anyone in a race so clearly defined by Hillary Clinton and Sanders, and insists that he could perform better under different circumstances.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) - With a reality TV star-turned-politician in the White House, some Democrats think the comedian-turned-politician would be the perfect foil. His book out next month, sarcastically titled, "Al Franken, Giant of the Senate," could be a signal of higher ambition.

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Joe Biden - The former vice president ran for the top job twice and nearly did a third time in 2016. Could he really make a go of it in 2020? "Never say never," Biden told "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert. "You don't know what's going to happen. I mean, hell Donald Trump's gonna be 74. I'll be 77 and in better shape. I mean, what the hell?"

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) - Gillibrand has long been seen as potential presidential material, and her decision to vote against almost every one of Trump's Cabinet nominees has earned her renewed praise on the left. A recent profile in New York magazine further edged her toward the national stage.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (NY) - Cuomo has built record of accomplishments in his time leading New York State, including the recent passage of a universal college tuition program, even though he's also racked up some detractors along the way. And unlike some of the other 2020 possibles, he's hardly shown a relish for taking on Trump.

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) - The former California Attorney General just got to the Senate in January, but many party insiders think she's interested in higher office and that she would be a formidable candidate for the White House. Political talent scouts have been watching her for years, with a 2015 Washington Post headline asking, "Is Kamala Harris the next Barack Obama?"

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Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, accused Trump of running a populist election campaign and then abandoning working people for special interests once in the White House.

"We can't delude anyone that this Congress will begin passing our priorities tomorrow but we have to start presenting our vision for the country's future," Schumer said at a kickoff event in the town of Berryville, Virginia.

Accompanying Schumer was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Chris Van Hollen and Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and David Cicilline, among others.

Democrats want to create an independent government agency that would crack down on drug companies that raise prices excessively. They also want to allow Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly, to negotiate prices with manufacturers.

Additionally, drug companies would need to justify big price hikes to the government.

Policy proposals provided to reporters singled out a few companies by name, including Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

One document criticized United Continental Holdings Inc for the "brutal assault" of a United passenger who was already seated on an overbooked flight and refused to give up his seat for a crew member.

Separately, if AT&T Inc's purchase of Time Warner Inc succeeds, it would allow the "resulting behemoths" to "unfairly discriminate" against smaller distributors, one document stated.

When Anheuser Busch InBev, the world's largest beer maker, purchased SABMiller, the second-largest beer company, it put smaller brewers at a disadvantage, the documents said.

Mergers between Dow Chemical Co and DuPont, Monsanto Co with Bayer AG and Syngenta AG with ChemChina "threaten the safety of food and agriculture in America," one document said.

Democrats will also propose doubling federal support for apprenticeship programs, a tax credit for employers that hire and train workers that make a liveable wage, and encouraging partnerships between companies and public high schools and community colleges.

(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Bernadette Baum)


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