Most United States Senators have specific goals and focal points that relate to the work they do for their state, and yet Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, has a national reputation as Congress’ “leading proponent of American manufacturing”. Yet, it is crucially important to pay attention to the many other issues that this recently re-elected Senator addresses in his active schedule.
Beginning his third term with the opening of the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019, he (like all of the other Senators) faces the challenges posed by the government shutdown. Now a record-breaking event, it was occurring even as the new Congress opened into session in January. This has led many to misunderstand what legislators in Washington can or cannot do at such times, and even what a shutdown means. It is important to understand this because one of the first bills that many Senators, including Senator Sherrod, sponsored on their first day relates to the shutdown (we will explore that bill later in this article).
Plainly put, a government shutdown in the United States occurs when Congress does not pass, and the President does not sign, legislation authorizing the United States Treasury to make payments essential to most federal agencies and departments. It is described as a “lapse in appropriations” or a “funding gap,” and it forces a great many agencies and offices to reduce or halt operations.
It also leads to many employees (more than 800k) to be furloughed. This means they do not get paid, and many find themselves “exempted” meaning they must continue to work without any hope of a paycheck. These are people employed in areas in which human safety or property protection are managed, such as the TSA. It does not include Congress or the President, though. They receive their regular paychecks, though many donate their salaries at such times, because their earnings are controlled by a different set of laws.
This has forced many Americans to look a bit more closely at what legislators might be doing when the government ceases to work. Rest assured, Congress is still working and introducing bills, debating legislation and more. In fact, they are holding hearings around the President’s nomination for Secretary General, and more.
Naturally, Representatives and Senators are also still doing their “other” work, including meeting with constituents, holding hearings, and more. This includes the remarkably busy Senator Sherrod Brown who is (as of this writing) considered one of the potential candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election.
About Senator Brown
Sherrod Brown was born and raised in Ohio. He is a member of the Eagle Scouts and a graduate of both Yale University, where he took his BA in Russian Studies, graduating in 1974 and of Ohio State University. There, he earned an MA in Education as a Master of Public Administration degree, as well. His early working years saw him teaching at his alma mater (from 1979 to 1981), but politics always had a bit of a hold on him.
While in college, he campaigned for George McGovern and other liberals, and during his senior year of college, he was recruited to run for the Ohio state house. He won a seat in the 61stdistrict and was a representative from 1974 until 1981. This made him (at that time), the youngest person to be elected to the Ohio house. He won the election for Ohio Secretary of State in 1982, and was re-elected in 1986 (serving until 1991). At that time, his emphasis or primary focus was voter registration. He lost his bid for re-election in 1991.
He moved to a different district in the early 1990s and ran for the Democratic seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th district (an area of Cleveland). He won that election and was subsequently re-elected six more times, remaining in office from 1993 to 2007.
In the House, he was among the few to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act and he worked to block CAFTA or the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which managed to pass by a single vote. He also sat on several committees and subcommittees, working as the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee as well as the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection; the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the House International Relations Committee (and a member of its Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific).
He was elected a state Senator in the 2006 race and has held that seat ever since. He has not been without challenges, though. For instance, his 2012 run was described by some as having almost the same amount of opposition as Barack Obama’s campaigns, and even as recently as January 14, 2019 it was discovered that intense opposition research was being conducted on the Senator’s wife in the event he should make a run for the Presidency in 2020.
Many sources indicate that he would be a uniting force between progressive and establishment branches of the Democratic Party, and this is likely to only increase the efforts his opposition use.He is rated as one of the most liberal members of Congress, and often viewed as quite progressive in his thinking.
A dedicated member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, he has a life-long commitment to economic and social justice, and this too is reflected in the work he has done as a Senator, including helping to pass health care laws that ensure health insurance is accessible and affordable for all.
As noted, Senator Brown is a huge supporter of national manufacturing policy that sees investment in innovation, supply chain strengthening, emerging industries, workers, and is also interested in trade policy, particularly that which promotes America’s interests. As his website explains, he is a major advocate for fair trade, and is “working on trade policies that promote our workers, small businesses, and manufacturers while creating jobs and expanding markets through an aggressive export promotion strategy.”
As a Senator from Ohio, he is also known for working closely with entrepreneurs, universities and other community entities in order to identify and put to use the state’s resources as a means of creating new jobs in the state’s most growable industries. He views education as a key component of this and uses mentoring relationships and education initiatives to guarantee that all of America’s youth obtain both quality educations to ensure they have the abilities, training, and skills required to go on to further education, job training and successful careers.
He is also recognized for his leadership in clean energy manufacturing, of which his state also rates at the top.
Senator Brown’s Ongoing Committee Work
Throughout his many years of service in Congress, he has participated in different Committees and Subcommittees that focus on the issues that matter to him and his constituents. These include:
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and the following subcommittees:
- Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade
- Subcommittee on Nutrition, Agricultural Research and Specialty Crops
- Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy
Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where he serves as the ranking member and participates in the following subcommittees:
- Subcommittee on Economic Policy
- Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection
- Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development
- Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance
- Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment
Committee on Finance, and the following subcommittees:
- Subcommittee on Health Care
- Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, where he is the ranking member
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
And as most of us would ask: Does any of his hard work reflect the interests of those offering him the greatest financial support around campaign time? Does any of the legislation he is sponsoring or co-sponsoring in the 116th Congress reflects his, or his supporter’s, interests most? Accurate answers require analysis into the industries that offer him financial support for his political campaigns.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Sherrod Brown’s Campaign During the 2017-2018 Elections
Sources note that Senator Brown is a top recipient from a limited number of industries during the previous election cycle (2017-2018). Unlike many other candidates, he was the Senator who received the highest amounts from any one specific industry, i.e. an industry favorite in just one industry – Air transport unions.
However, we was the second or third recipient in the following industries (Note: the number designation indicates whether he was the second or third highest recipient of financial support from the industry indicated):
- Environment (#2)
- Gay & lesbian rights & issues (#2)
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes (#2)
- Industrial Unions (#2)
- Miscellaneous Unions (#2)
- Pro-Abortion Rights (#2)
- Steel Production (#2)
- Public Sector Unions (#3)
- Teachers unions (#3)
- Transport Unions (#3)
Does this mean that these groups were also the largest contributors to his campaign overall? No, the top 20 industries that contributed to his Campaign Committee were (in ranking order):
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Securities & Investment
- Health Professionals
- Real Estate
- Leadership PACs
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes
- Business Services
- Women’s Issues
- Civil Servants/Public Officials
- Miscellaneous Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Commercial Banks
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing and Distributing
- Non-Profit Institutions
Additionally, for the previous voting cycle, his top individual campaign contributors were:
- Ohio State University
- League of Conservation Voters – An American environmental advocacy group
- JStreetPAC – This is a federal political action committee created to promote American leadership to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Cleveland Clinic – An enormous non-profit academic medical center that offers clinical and hospital care, research, education and health information
- Votesane PAC – A nonpartisan Political Action Committee that helps users to research and then donate money to candidates of any party affiliation
Clearly, his contributors and supporters do not influence the Senator’s actions, activities or choices. Instead, they are a more accurate reflection of his wide-reaching interests and efforts on behalf of his diverse constituency and his state’s needs. It cannot be ignored, though, that he also is one of the current Senators who shows a keen interest and willingness to work for national goals and benefits, too.
Senator Brown’s 9 Bills in the 116th Congress- To Date
Now that we’ve taken a look at Senator Brown’s interests and core goals, it is interesting to explore the bills and legislation he is sponsoring or co-sponsoring thus far in the 116th Congress. As of this writing, his name appears on eleven bills, and we will look closely at nine of them. Though some are just a reflection of the Senate’s more traditional activities, others show the Senator’s dedication to such issues as working families, trade deals, job creation, and more. Note that in his three terms, thus far, he has legislated for more than 200 bipartisan bills, ranking fourth on the list of Senators passing the most laws. This is quite an achievement in light of his Democratic (i.e. minority) standing.
Introduced to the Senate on January 3, 2019 by Senator Benjamin Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), this legislation was passed/agreed to in the Senate and passed the Senate without amendment by voice vote on January 10, 2019. It was then passed/agree to in the House “On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 411 – 7”. On January 14, 2019 it was passed to the President.
Its official title is “A bill to provide for the compensation of Federal and other government employees affected by lapses in appropriations.”
As those who know Senator Brown’s stance on working families would expect, he did not just support this legislation. Six days after voting on it, he took to the Senate floor to comment on the severity of the ongoing shutdown and its effects on working families, saying, “It comes down to respecting the dignity of work. Missing one paycheck may not seem like a lot to the billionaire president and his multi-millionaire cabinet, with their massive investment portfolios. But for most Americans, missing a paycheck is a big deal. You can’t buy groceries or put gas in the car with an I-owe-you.”
He has also noted that he plans to introduce legislation to “secure back pay for government contract employees who have gone without pay during the government shutdown. Brown is also joining Senate colleagues in a letter this week calling on the Administration to direct federal agencies to ensure government contractors receive the back pay they deserve.”
On January 9, 2019, Senator Brown and 25 other Democratic Senators introduced this bill also known as the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act. As Senator Brown noted, “Workers and their families should not have to face losing their homes or defaulting on loans because of President Trump’s temper tantrum. President Trump is hurting the people who make this country work, and he needs to do his job and reopen the government right now. This legislation will help ease suffering among workers impacted by this unnecessary and avoidable shutdown.”
What this bill aims to do is prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against any federal workers or federal contractors who have been financially disabled because of the ongoing government shutdown. Many are unable to make their rent or mortgage payments, loans and other bills. Some are even losing healthcare coverage. The bill specifically aims at the prevention of federal works and/or contractors:
- Being evicted or foreclosed;
- Having their car or other property repossessed;
- Falling behind in student loan payments;
- Falling behind in paying bills; or
- Losing their insurance because of missed premiums.
Designed to last throughout the duration of the shutdown, and the 30 days that follow it, it would apply to more than 800k people in all 50 states. Introduced by Senator Brian Schatz, it also has the support of Senators Brown, Cardin, Hassan, Heinrick, Booker, Murphy, Baldwin, Hirono, Warner, and Masto. There is a companion bill before the House, too.
The Senate bill was read twice and then referred to the Committee on Finance.
Another measure introduced to the Senate on January 3, 2019 by Senator John Thune, it was placed on the Legislative Calendar under General Orders the following day. It is an emergency measure to ensure that all members of the Coast Guard (including civilians and contractors) are paid regardless of the status of the government shutdown. It also ensures that retired pay and payment of “a death gratuity, funeral travel, and the temporary continuation of the basic allowance for housing for dependents of members of the Coast Guard dying on active duty” are maintained” with the appropriations “provided until the enactment of specified Coast Guard appropriations legislation.”
It was co-sponsored by Senators Thune and Brown as well as Wicker, Cantwell, Blumenthal, Jones, Collins, Hyde-Smith, Sullivan, Schatz, Johnson, Rubio, Murkowski, Menendez, Murray, Hassaon, Hirono, Merkley, Roberts, Cortez-Masto, Rounds, Stabenow, Murphy and Scott in a bipartisan effort.
Introduced by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia on January 3, 2019, this bill has a second, official, title that reads: “A bill to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer certain funds to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan, and for other purposes.”
Co-sponsored by four other Senators, including Kaine, Warner, Jones (AL) and Casey, it is a partisan backed initiative by the Democrats.
This is the second time the group has sought support for coal miners, and text from 2019 version clearly explains the goals of the legislation: To “secure our nation’s retired miners pensions by: 1) shoring up the 1974 Pension Plan which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis, 2) ensuring that the miners who are at risk due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare, and 3) extending the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal for ten years. This tax is critical for supporting the Black Lung Disability Trust fund, which provides healthcare and benefits to more than 25,000 miners and their dependents.”
As Senator Brown explained in a publicized meeting with miners in Ohio, “Mine workers are in a particularly vulnerable position. Mine workers and their widows would lose 40 to 50 percent of their pension.”
Having worked on a joint select committee looking into the matter in 2018, the group wanted to find workable solutions to pension issues for many industries, but a missed deadline delayed introduction of a bill. Now, the Senators are reintroducing the bill, similar to their 2017 version. As this will be a major ballot issue for the 2020 elections, it is hoped to pass through both houses and come into law soon.
Introduced to the Senate by Senator Christopher Murphy of CT, on January 8, 2019, S.42 has text available, and is similar in nature to earlier bills introduced during the 115th Congress.Introduced in October of 2017 by a similar group of Senators, including Senator Brown, this was the S.2009 Background Check Expansion Act, which was introduced in the Senate but never gained traction.
Once again, roughly half of the Senate supported this bill through co-sponsorship, but it remains a mostly partisan effort on the part of the Democrats along with Senator Sanders (Independent) of Vermont. It is a companion to legislation before the House;HR8, which is “to require a background check for every firearm sale,” it was immediately a controversial set of proposals.
Mandatory background checks are widely disliked by pro-gun lobbyists, voters and others. Opponents to this bill insist that checks cannot prevent criminals and dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms. Some insist that it criminalizes simply handing a gun to a friend or family member. However, one report explains that the act “will require background checks for the sale or transfer of all firearms. This requirement extends to all unlicensed sellers, whether they do business online, at gun shows, or out of their home. Exceptions to the Background Check Expansion Act include transfers between law enforcement officers, temporarily loaning firearms for hunting and sporting events, providing firearms as gifts to immediate family members, transferring a firearm as part of an inheritance, or temporarily transferring a firearm for immediate self-defense.”
Senator Brown noted that the debates over gun control have been changing in response to several issues, most specifically transparency in government alerting voters to legislators being heavily funded by gun lobbyists. He is noted saying, “Members of Congress who have done the bidding of the NRA for their whole careers and the gun lobby their whole careers are feeling under a lot of pressure, and that’s a good thing. I don’t know what Congress is going to do. I don’t know what Republican leadership is going to do, but we ought to have a full debate. People ought to be able to offer amendments, and we should see what we can do on gun safety rules.”
The NRA, to date, has invested roughly one million dollars to campaign against the Senator.
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen on January 10, 2019 it is co-sponsored by Senator Brown and 18 others including Senators King, Hassan, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Gillibrand, Van Hollen, Sanders, Reed, Klobuchar, Blumenthal, Warren, Hirono, Smith, Schatz, Durbin, Bennet, Feinstein, Manchin and Leahy. It is a Democrat and Independent backed bill.
In 2018, Senator Brown co-sponsored two bills signed into legislation, both of which aimed at helping consumers enjoy better pricing on prescription medications. At that time, he went on record to describe one of his next objectives – eliminating prescription drug ads. He said, “We should be saying to drug companies you can no longer deduct the cost of advertising because that’s just a cost that fuels consumption more than it informs the public, and that’s just adding to the cost.Why should we give government incentives, tax payer dollars, to subsidize that kind of behavior by the drug companies?“
Spending more than six billion dollars on advertising in 2016, alone, it is clear that drug makers do enjoy huge benefits from the tax code’s stance, and this legislation targets it directly. The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
This bill was introduced by Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders on January 10, 2019. It was cosponsored by 23 other Senators – all Democrats (except for Senator Sanders who is Independent) and including Senator Brown along with Senators Booker, Baldwin, Blumenthal, Casey, Cantwell, Gilibrand, Harris, Hassan, Heinrich, King, Leahy, Klobuchar, Manchin, Merkley, Reed, Shaheen, Smith, Stabenow, Udall, Van Hollen, Warren, and Whitehouse. Read twice and twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, it is not the first time such legislation has been attempted.
In 2017, Senator Brown with a long list of other co-sponsors introduced the Affordable Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, which was intended as a companion bill to Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act (HR 1776/S. 771).
As Senator Brown noted at the time, “We can’t ask Ohioans to choose between paying for medicine and putting gas in the tank or food on the table. President Trump said he wanted to lower drug costs and we’re offering concrete proposals to make that happen.” The bill aims at lowering “prescription drug costs by increasing transparency and accountability, boosting access and affordability of key drugs, spurring innovation, and increasing choice and competition. The legislation follows specific steps Brown outlined to Trump in a December 2016 letter outlining specific steps his Administration should take to help Congress reduce prices for working Americans.”
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
In addition to the bill above, Senator Brown also co-sponsored this initiative which is in its third attempt at giving the Secretary of the Department of Health and human Services the ability to negotiate prices of prescription drugs in the same manner that the Medicaid program is able to set prices as well as the way that the Department of Veteran Affairs negotiates pricing for veterans.
The goal is to reduce drug costs for American seniors and save tax payers billions in the process. This effort can also reduce drug prices in the private insurance segment, too.
As Senator Brown noted when attempting to pass similar legislation in 2017, “Negotiating better prices for…seniors is a win for everyone because it will save taxpayer dollars and bring down drug costs for everyone.”
Earlier attempts at similar legislation, entitled the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (2017), would have allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate directly with drug makers, demanding discounts for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. The previous bill asked for the elimination of a non-interference clause which “expressly bans Medicare from negotiating for the best possible prices. The government can harness the bargaining power of nearly 41 million seniors to negotiate bigger discounts than insurance companies.”
A logical step, it is not the current law in place, as today it is the drug makers who can do the bargaining, and Medicare is effectively banned from taking similar actions. Those enrolled in Medicare part D would benefit immediately and tax payers would enjoy the reduced costs for Medicare.
As Senator Brown indicated in his letter to the President on this matter, “It is undeniable that more and more families are struggling to access medications, and in many cases, are forced to choose between paying for prescription drugs and other necessities, like food and shelter. The American public is fed up, with roughly 8-in-10 Americans reporting that drug prices are unreasonable, and that we must take action to lower costs. You now have the authority to push for a future that prioritizes patients. We are ready to advance measures to achieve this goal and we urge you to partner with Republicans and Democrats alike to take meaningful steps to address the high cost of prescription drugs through bold administrative and legislative actions.”
Senator Brown is a co-sponsor along with 32 other Senators, and it is a mostly partisan issue with only Independents joining Democrats in introducing the legislation. Senators Baldwin, Bennet, Booker, Brown, Cantwell, Cardin, Cortez-Masto, Duckworth, Gillibrand, Harris, Hassan, Heinrich, Hirono, Kaine, King, Leahy, Manchin, Merkley, Murphy, Murray, Reed, Schumer, Shaheen, Smith, Stabenow, Udall, Van Hollen, Warren, Whitehouse, Warner, Wyden and Peters were also co-sponsors.
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
The last bill that we’ll consider is bittersweet as it was passed quickly and unanimously by all members of the Senate; something many wish could happen much more often. On the other hand, it was due to the passing of a long-time public servant, former Senator John Cheaster Culver.
On January 10, 2019, the Senate ended their work day by unanimously passing a resolution. The Senate Floor Activity record noted a fairly busy schedule beginning around 10 AM that day. It began with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.
Legislative business for the day was brisk and included introduction of the S.1 by Senator Rubio of Florida, S.24 (the compensation for Federal workers described earlier) by Senator Cardin, and a Senate Resolution by Senator Graham “commending the Clemson University Tigers football team for winning the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship”. The final bit of legislation that day was a resolution was considered and agreed to by unanimous consent.
It was S.Res. 16: A resolution relative to the death of John Chester Culver, former United States Senator for the State of Iowa was introduced to Congress by Senator Grassley of Iowa.
This was a 100% bipartisan resolution that aimed at recognizing the late Senator Culver’s many years of service. He was a twice-graduate of Harvard University and member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1958, he had practiced law in Iowa until being elected to Congress for four consecutive terms (between 1965 and 1975). He was then elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and served out a full term before returning to his legal practice, in Maryland. He died on December 26, 2018.
The text of the resolution is aitemizing of the late Senator’s service in public office and the U.S. military. It explains that he served five terms in the House and his single term in the Senate. It also noted that he “spearheaded a commission to modernize the procedures of the Senate, including an increased use of computerized floor status updates and committee schedules…Whereas John Chester Culver was known for his hard work and independence”
The closing of the resolutions are very appropriate and read:
“Resolved, That the Senate has heard with profound sorrow and deep regret the announcement of the death of the Honorable John Chester Culver, former member of the United States Senate.
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate communicate these resolutions to the House of Representatives and transmit an enrolled copy thereof to the family of the deceased.
Resolved, That when the Senate adjourns today, it stand adjourned as a further mark of respect to the memory of the Honorable John Chester Culver.”
The resolution was agreed to without amendment and by unanimous consent, with adjournment at 5:59 PM that day.
In early 2019, Senator Brown has also co-sponsored bills S.120 – A bill to protect victims of stalking from gun violence and S. Res. 18 – A resolution authorizing the Senate Legal Counsel to represent the Senate in Texas v. United States r:18-cv-00167-O (N.D. Tex.)
A Successful Legislator
As you might have guessed, Senator Brown is a very effective legislator and deemed a bit of a challenge to any of his opposition. This is why any talk of his potential bid for the presidency in 2020 receives so much attention from Republicans and conservatives.
In the past two Congressional sessions, he sponsored or co-sponsored roughly 600 different bill or resolutions. In the first days of the new session, he’s already amassed nine different bills he co-sponsored. He actively meets with his constituents and follows through on the issues that impact them the most.
In fact, even as the government shutdown continues, Senator Brown saw some of his previous efforts signed into law. On January 15, 2019 President Trump signed “U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman’s (R-OH) bipartisan Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act into law that would provide local communities with increased flexibility when complying with Clean Water Act requirements for updates to sewer systems”. This bill gives communities more autonomy as they consider storm water investments and wastewater planning. The Senator has made several speeches and comments about the shutdown since it has begun, always pointing towards those most heavily impacted by it and taking steps to help them remain as financially stable as possible. He has spoken out against the current administration’s to provide top appointees raises while implementing a pay freeze for all civilian federal employees in the coming year. “President Trump is padding the pockets of his millionaire political officials while taking money out of the pockets of hard-working people at places like Wright-Patt. This is a betrayal of American workers,” the Senator noted.
As someone long dedicated to working class people and families, it is no surprise that he would be outspoken on such matters, in addition to promoting laws designed to protect those going unpaid.
His legislative record shows that Senator Brown is one of the busiest on Capitol Hill and one with his constituents’ and his country’s best interests at heart at all times.