After spending several weeks in the nation’s capital waiting for a chance to vote on a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is glad to be back in Ohio.
Brown, the Democrat from Avon, a Cleveland suburb on Lake Erie, was in Cincinnati this week to visit with constituents in this part of the state and meet with the media. As Brown waited for a U.S. Army veteran to arrive at his office in downtown’s U.S. Bank tower near Fountain Square so he could present him with combat medals for his service in Iraq, the senator spoke with CityBeat about the recent impasse in Washington, among other topics.
“We should’ve been focused on jobs,” Brown said about all the time spent on the debt ceiling debate. “Of course we need to deal with the budget deficit, (but) we don’t cut our way into prosperity. We’ve got to create some jobs.
“I think this debt ceiling crisis is contrived,” he added. “Under Ronald Reagan, the debt ceiling was raised 18 times, and it was raised under Bill Clinton. Neither party did what we’ve seen recently to the president of the other party — basically stomping our feet and saying, ‘If I don’t get my way, I’m going to let the government of the United States default.’”
Noting that most nations don’t have debt ceiling limits, Brown thinks the concept should be abolished here. Regardless, he believes the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment gives authority to the president to unilaterally raise the limit, if needed, and Barack Obama should’ve kept that as an option to force a compromise with the Republicans, calling it a strategic misstep not to have done so.
“I think he should’ve considered it,” the senator said. “My concern is this happens every time, from here on out. It’s going to be very bad for the country. It’s basically saying that no matter what the president and Congress decides on budgets and spending, a relatively small group of people can stop it later, can roll it back later. That’s not the way it should be.”
Brown is deeply disappointed that the debt deal doesn’t include new revenues such as closing tax loopholes or raising taxes on the wealthy.
“I think the president should have held firm,” he said. “(Mr. Obama) needed to talk to the country about it. If the president told the conservatives in the House of Representatives that he was going to stand firm on everything from oil company subsidies to tax rates for Wall Street hedge fund managers, who pay a lower rate than do a steel worker or a carpenter or a school teacher, and gone around the country saying it again and again, tell me the Republicans would’ve blocked that and sent the country into default.
The deal reached between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) calls for $917 billion in initial cuts, followed by the creation of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly known as “the super committee.” It’s charged with recommending an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving, or face $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts to civilian discretionary spending, defense and Medicare.
Some critics doubt that the 12-member, bipartisan committee will be able to reach a compromise and believe there’s enough wiggle room in the deal to avoid the automatic cuts. Not Brown, however.
“I’m optimistic enough to think both sides will do it for the good of the country,” he said.
Brown, 58, was elected in 2006, defeating Republican incumbent Mike DeWine. Prior to joining the Senate, Brown was a congressman and also served terms as Ohio secretary of state and as a state representative. He previously taught at the Mansfield branch of The Ohio State University.
The liberal-leaning Brown is a staunch opponent of the Iraq War and voted against extending the Patriot Act. Also, he supports equal rights for LGBT Americans and voted to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
When asked about the traditional rivalry between Cleveland and Cincinnati, Brown wasn’t afraid to take a jab at Boehner and his frequent travels. “I would guess I’m in this section of the state as much as John is,” he said.
Brown’s major focus currently is stumping for support of the bill that would create a National Infrastructure Bank. Proposed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). It would create an independent, nonprofit bank that would leverage private investment into infrastructure projects around the nation, which Brown said would help create badly needed jobs.
The bank would initially cost about $10 billion and provide loans and loan guarantees for large projects like new highways, bridges and sewer systems.
“It would mean (funds for) everything from the Brent Spence (bridge replacement) to water and sewer systems in fast-growing townships or in old cities, like Hamilton and Middletown,” Brown said. “Those kinds of needs can be addressed.
“It also includes community colleges, it’s also higher-ed infrastructure” he added. “Because of this fervor the Far Right has about government now, we’re not preparing students for the future. We’re really not preparing young people to go to school without (incurring) huge debt. My wife was the first in her family to go to college. Her dad carried a union card in Ashtabula, she went to Kent State and graduated with very little debt. She got some merit scholarships, but not that much. It mostly was (that) universities cost less, relative to wages, than they do now and Pell Grants were more generous than they are now.”
Brown criticized the GOP-controlled House for not doing enough to create jobs, while spending time on bills related to abortion and Planned Parenthood, calling it a sign of misplaced priorities.
“There is not an emphasis on jobs, only on cutting spending,” he said. “And look what happens: We have this anemic economic growth, there are fewer teachers and firefighters and police officers and public employees today than there were a year ago or two years ago. We’ve seen private-sector job growth in the last 15 months but while private-sector employment goes up, public-sector goes down. We end up staying in this rut that we can’t get out of.”
Although government-hating Tea Partiers might view the situation as a good thing, Brown says it’s adversely affecting most Americans.
“We’re seeing cuts in services to things that matter in people’s lives, and we’re not seeing an economy come back,” he said. “If there were more people today working, there would be more revenue for government and, more importantly, there would be more demand created for goods and services. We’d see these companies that are sitting on billions and trillions of dollars, collectively, that would be spending their cash reserves and would be investing in job creation. But they don’t see the demand in the marketplace for their goods, so they’re not doing it.”
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