[Excerpt from “$wing $tate, Money and Politics in Ohio 2012” available here]
Today I had the opportunity to speak with US Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio for a few minutes about politics, the national debt, entitlements, green energy, and jobs as relates to Ohio.
The Senator has been a long time supporter of a Balanced Budget Amendment, but not just any amendment. In the last few years two proposals were put forward in the US Senate, one by Senator Udall(D), which he voted for, and one by Senator Hatch(R), which he voted against. He explained this dichotomy on philosophical grounds; the Udall amendment was designed to protect entitlements, while the Hatch proposal would have privatized entitlements and introduced significant tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. A recurring theme in our discussions.
I asked him about Social Security in particular. While this program does not draw from the general budget, there are internal fiscal problems due to the growth in population numbers and increase in life span. Sen. Brown quickly rejected the idea of increasing the retirement age, “I don’t agree with raising the retirement age… Someone working a physical job, on a factory floor…. Having them work till they’re seventy…That’s not a solution.” When asked how he would rectify it, he pointed to the tax cap, which currently rests at the first 100,000 dollars of income, after which a citizen pays no SS taxes. “I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but we don’t need radical surgery… Lifting the cap [on earnings over 100,00] is the best plan.”
Senator Brown’s stump speeches lately have been promoting Ohio’s positive growth in jobs to approximately 7.5% unemployment, ahead of the rest of the nation, along with President Obama’s bailout of GM and the stimulus investments, as well as his own Senate jobs and education proposals such as SECTORS. He also has proposed a 5 year spending freeze, and a freeze on student loan rates at 3.4%. I asked the Senator if there wasn’t a contradiction here in the desire to control debt and spending while attempting to increase spending on jobs investments. He replied with an answer that, while clearly prepared, was surprisingly salient, “We can’t cut our way to prosperity….the 1960’s to 1980’s were some of the most prosperous times for this country, we did that through investments…we haven’t invested in our infrastructure since the Reagan era…programs like Head Start and Pell Grants, lead to productive citizens…I believe in smart cuts while investing with a tax increase on our wealthiest citizens.”
Senator Brown has also been waging a battle for more open government on two fronts. In 2005, 2006, and 2011 he voted against re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act, which he sees as government overreach. I asked him if he had an opinion on what would need to happen for us to return to a pre-9/11 security footing, and he simply said, “I don’t know.” Not the most hopeful message, but he deserves credit for being honest in a moment where I really was expecting slogans.
He has also been a leading voice in the fight to pass a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, that essentially gave organizations the same status as individual humans. If you go to the Senator’s website the first thing you find is a petition in support of such an amendment currently holding over 475 thousand signatures. (full disclosure, I am one of those signatures) The Senator was clearly angered by this issue describing it as, “…a terrible thing for democracy. It’s just so cynical. To suppress voter turnout for low income voters on the one hand, while trying to buy elections on the other…It’s such a cynical way to do things.” He acknowledged that the amendment process was a long, slow effort, but a necessary one.
I closed the interview by asking the US Senator if he had any comments about the fight Ohio Secretary of State Husted is currently involved in regarding early voting, as Sherrod Brown once held that post for two terms. All he could say was “I’m disappointed. I thought he was going to be fair minded, try to open up elections…I think he’s just thinking about his future in a party that’s moving increasingly to the right.”