WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats, trying mightily to win back the white working-class voters who backed President Donald Trump, are making a strong push for protections for blue collar workers' shaky pensions.
Congress has until Jan. 19 to pass a bill to fund most of the federal government, and Democrats are eagerly trying to load it up with proposals that will lure the voters who left the party in 2016.
They badly need those voters, since 23 Democrats and two independents are up for re-election this year -- including several with large union populations -- while just eight Republican seats are being contested.
The Democrats' pension plan is expected to have a difficult, if not impossible, road to passage in the GOP-run Congress. But Democrats are banking on their initiative to provide a valuable debate point on the campaign trail.
On the Senate's first day of 2018, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer offered what could well be the opening line of his colleagues' campaign speech.
"2017 was a great year for wealthy Republican donors, but a lost year for the middle class and the working men and women of this country," Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "We Democrats hope that this year is different -- focused on the middle class rather than the rich and powerful."
Democrats are pressing Republicans to include in this month's spending bill the Butch Lewis Act, named for the late teamster who led a fight to save his union's pensions. Sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the measure would direct the Treasury Department to loan money to faltering pension plans at low interest rates.
Brown and nine other Democrats face voters this year in states Trump won in 2016, including several with large union populations. Among the incumbents on the ballot are Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Union membership is also influential in Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is vulnerable.
The pension push could help restore the party's "working-man credentials" in areas where Democrats lost to Trump, said Steve Mitchell, chairman of a Michigan-based research and communications firm. Though union clout has been declining, it's still potent.
"Trump did well among those older voters, a lot of them retirees or older voters who will be dependent on a pension," Mitchell said. "Something like this resonates."