Robert Rubin, the reigning guru on economic policy for the Democraticparty, got a stiff surprise when he appeared today beforethe closed caucus meeting of House Democrats. A bunch of Democrats,including several of the new freshmen, challenged the former Treasurysecretary–instead of listening reverently to Rubin’s standard pitchfor free trade and balanced budgets.

David Sirota had a source inside the caucus and reports on the blowback.Indiana freshman Rep. Joe Donnelly told about the Delphi employees in hisdistrict whose wages have been broken from $21 to $9 an hour, theirpension obligations dumped on the government and jobs shipped offshore–thanks to Rubin’s “free trade” system. “What do you say to that?”Donnelly asked.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell unloaded on Rubin, linking the loss ofAmerica’s manufacturing base to national security. Freshman Rep. NancyBoyda of Kansas reportedly tore into NAFTA, the trade agreement Rubin shepherdedthrough Congress for the Clinton administration. Ohio Rep. Marcy Kapturrecalled the US trade deficit was $70 billion when Rubinomics waslaunched in 1993 and $370 billion at the end of the Clinton presidency(it is now $700 billion and rising).

I have no details on Robert Rubin’s responses except that another sourceinside the caucus says Rubin begged off the negative questions byobserving that the trade issue is “complicated.” One House memberreportedly growled that trade may be complicated, but losing your job isnot complicated.

This is a small moment in the new life of the Democratic party, but itis a good moment and, one hopes, the harbinger of more to come.