Sen. Sherrod Brown On Jobs, Trade, and Trump

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Earlier this month I brought you a report about WorkAdvance, a pilot project in Northeast Ohio that focused on career coaching for people moving from jobs, to careers in manufacturing or healthcare. 

One of the program’s participants was Deborah Wynn, who now works for University Hospitals.  I asked her what she wanted to say to decision-makers and politicians about this kind of project:

WYNN: “Add more, give people a chance to get jobs.  They talk about, they want to help people with jobs, set up programs that will help them, because a lot of people don’t know where to start. Let the word get out.”

Ohio’s Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown spent much of today in Cleveland, for events touching, in part on infrastructure investment, and job creation.  I spoke with Brown about a number of issues, including what he thought about the idea of training folks for careers and not just jobs:

BROWN: “Ohio has some of the best community colleges in the country, and I think we do that pretty well, and I like that whole pilot that you’re really training people in that way, too.  And it’s not just community colleges, it’s career centers in high school, it’s apprentice programs that a sheet metal worker might join where the wages are good and the work is difficult but highly skilled, and a real career there, so plenty of these don’t involve going even on to community college let alone a four-year degree, it’s what the student wants, and where she sees herself in a year, and five years, what she can afford, and how that comes together.”

GANZER: “You gave a speech at Ohio State University recently, and part of that speech, I’m reading from it here, ‘the unemployment rate is one thing, but whether workers have jobs that pay a decent wage and provide security is another.’ And that goes into, I think, what I was hearing from some of these workers, that when we hear ‘jobs’ especially from Washington, that says ‘unemployment rate.’ How do we marry these things, and let people have that security if it’s not building a career?”

BROWN: “And when you’ve seen in Northeast Ohio, our whole state, and this whole region of the Great Lake states, the industrial heartland, and especially in Northeast Ohio, you’ve seen good paying industrial jobs in many cases leave for whatever reason; sometimes higher productivity can put out the same number of products; sometimes it’s jobs moved overseas, it’s a whole host of reasons, but you’re seeing those jobs too often replaced, maybe the same number of jobs but they’re 11, 12, as low as 8 dollars sometimes, up to 15 dollars an hour, but not what those jobs paid before.  So it really is—the unemployment rate matters, the number of people working matters, but what really matters is the wages. That’s why I so resist tax policy where you give more tax breaks to the wealthiest people in the society and the middle class again gets squeezed, and those who aspire to the middle class don’t have the opportunity.  So you see the wealthiest 1, or 2, or 5% doing better and better and better, and the broad middle not doing better, and that’s where our focus is.  And my plan that you mentioned in the speech at the John Glenn School in Columbus was really about looking at the economy from the middle out; that growth in the economy is from the middle out, and not the top down.  And I know that the President, and some presidents before him, believed you cut taxes on the rich and it trickles down.  We saw that there was virtually no economic growth, no job growth, during the 8 years of the Bush administration, quantifiably. Two different times they did tax cuts for the rich that would trickle down.  In the Clinton years, and the in Obama years, there was focus on the middle class, and growing the economy out.  Twenty million new jobs in the Clinton years, private sector growth jobs, net increase jobs.  And  in the Obama years from 2010 from the auto rescue, through his presidency to now, there have been, I don’t know count them, 78, 79, 80 months in a row of economic growth, that’s good, and 80 months in a row of job growth, but not the wages that we need to see for people and the growth there, and that’s where the focus needs to be.”

GANZER: “One of the things you’ve agreed with the President on is needing to renegotiate trade deals, and you were talking about this long before the President was, but when talk about a harder stance with China, per se, or a more aggressive renegotiation of NAFTA, these countries especially in Ohio are some of our biggest customers.  And I spoke to Ned Hill, an economist at Ohio State University, and he said any sort of ‘trade war’ or something similar to that, would be far from pain-free from Ohio.  What do you say to that, when we’re talking about renegotiating, and the President says we’re taking a harder stance, what do you say to Ohioans who may be worried that there may be some pain here?”

BROWN: “A trade war is unacceptable, and I would hope the President doesn’t want to see a trade war.  I certainly have never, my position on trade has never gone to that.  But I think the whole idea of renegotiation suggests that both sides come to the table, and you renegotiate issues like the rules of origin for auto, which would matter for our auto industry, not just Ford, and GM, and Chrysler, and Honda in Ohio, but the whole supply chain.  You also talk about investor-state dispute settlement,  where corporations have the power to sue other countries on trade that really does ultimately undermine consumer protections, environmental rules, and all that.  So those are the ones we need renegotiation.  Two days after the election, literally, I called the President’s, I called the leader of his transition team on trade, and talked to him at length about my offer to help him renegotiate NAFTA, to pull out of Trans-Pacific Partnership, and to be aggressive about trade enforcement rules.  That sometimes makes other countries unhappy.  They enforce their rules aggressively, we should, too.  That doesn’t mean trade war, it means a leveler playing field, and it means you follow the rule of law.  We haven’t done that as well as we should.  I’m hopeful, and I will stand with this president to do that.  I’ve not seen anything come out of that yet, I hopeful it does.  At the same time, if we do this huge infrastructure that the President has announced as Candidate Trump but done nothing on yet, and has now put it back to maybe next year, whatever we do on infrastructure, whether it’s the Port of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River at Irishtown Bend that area of the Cuyahoga, or whether it’s a highway, or whether it’s an airport, or whether it’s public housing, it needs to be Buy American, it needs to be made by American workers paid prevailing wage, it needs to be American products, steel, iron,  limestone, whatever it is.”

GANZER: “You mentioned that we haven’t seen much on infrastructure.  We haven’t seen many details on many of the proposals that the White House talked about during the campaign.  What can we do with that?  The fact that we don’t have a lot of data to act on, but it is sending a message in a way to our allies abroad.  What do you say to Ohioans that are just waiting and seeing for the details of all of these programs, are they ever going to come, or is it all talk out of Washington?”

BROWN: “I don’t know.  I think you always give each president some time at the beginning to get their sea legs, if you will.  This president has hired as his cabinet a number of people that have no experience in those issues, and then he’s failed to send to Congress for confirmation—there are 600 confirmable-by-the-Senate positions in the federal government, the President has only sent about 30 of them to Congress and made nominations.  So he’s way behind, and it makes it a lot harder for us as a country to move forward, and it makes it harder for Congress.  We can’t do good infrastructure, we can’t do good tax reform, until the President weighs in.  And he’s put his political people in all these agencies, but they’re kind of political people, he’s not put the substantive people in.  And we’re waiting, and Congress won’t do it on its own—it just doesn’t have the bandwidth sometimes.  And this Congress is so fighting within the—forget the Democrats—within the Republican Party.  For the country to move forward, you need presidential leadership, and the President—what bothers me about Russia, what bothers me about these tweets, is the President needs to answer these questions so we can focus on jobs, focus on taxes, and focus on healthcare.”


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