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Net Neutrality, NAFTA and Infrastructure: Sherrod Brown on What has Congress's Attention

photo of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown
Brown had pledged to work with President Trump on infrastructure, but sayas local governments can't afford his plan.

While President Trump and the Russia investigation continue to dominate headlines, net neutrality, NAFTA, health care and infrastructure are among the top topics on Capitol Hill this week. We spoke with Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown about what’s moving and what’s stalled.

Democrats had a rare victory in the Senate this week, voting to reverse the FCC repeal of rules that prohibit internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific apps and websites. Sherrod Brown acknowledges the House likely won’t go along, but says it’s a crucial issue for the small businesses who are often a key GOP constituency.

“I spoke to 100 Realtors from Ohio this week at the Capitol. And it’s their No. 1 priority to preserve net neutrality because they know what a few large companies can do to thousands of small businesses across Ohio.”

He said he hopes the House will listen to such sentiment, but fears lobbyists for the major providers will hold sway.

“That’s been the story of this Congress, corporate lobbyists coming out of the majority leader’s office, the speaker’s office, carry the day too often. Yesterday, fortunately they didn’t carry the day. But we need pressure on House members to tell them to do the right things.”

To me there is no deadline. There is 'Get it right.'

A long-critic of NAFTA says progress is being made
The House has also set this week as the deadline for Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to bring a renegotiated NAFTA deal to Congress. Brown says that’s an artificial deadline.

“To me there is no deadline. There is ‘Get it right.’”

Brown calls Lighthizer the best of President Trump’s cabinet appointments and said he thinks progress has been made on key issues.

“We (need to)  fix the labor chapter, we fix investor-state dispute settlement to preserve our sovereignty, our democracy, our health/ public safety laws, we fix currency.”

And Lighthizer, he said, needs more support from Republicans in Congress.

Rebuilding roads, bridges and a whole lot more
“I heard big promises from the White House -- during the campaign, a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan over 10 years. And then I heard it again and then it was a trillion-and-a-half dollar infrastructure plan.”

Under  President Trump's plan, it would fall to local and state governments and private entities to put up 80 percent of the money. Brown says that’s a sharp contrast to Democratic plans.

“I personally put two bills out there, this last bill, a trillion dollar, 10-year, paid-for infrastructure plan. But the Republican House and Senate decided instead to give a tax cut to the wealthiest 1 percent…”

So, what now?

'You don't build infrastructure by the federal government putting in pennies on the dollar because communities and states don't have the money.'

“The Democrats plan’s real, it provides real money, it’s not smoke an mirrors. ... It provides dollars to local communities, it follows in large part the way we built the interstate from World War II on, where the federal government provided 90 percent of the funding, and local and state governments 10 percent.

“We’re not quite that ratio, but you don’t build infrastructure by the federal government putting in pennies on the dollar because communities and states don’t have the money.

"We know good solid infrastructure creates jobs,” he said, and that goes beyond construction jobs.

“We know that it creates jobs because it builds a foundation …. where companies are more likely to come into a community that has modernized infrastructure.

Healthcare for all
Brown attended the Center for American Progress meeting this week in Washington, where a lot of talk was about Democratic calls for a single-payer health insurance system. Brown says that’s not a new idea.

“I introduced years ago a Medicare-for-all bill. I am not a cosponsor of the bills now. My interest is preserving the Affordable Care Act.

“There are 500,000 Ohioans because of the Affordable Care Act who have had opioid treatment, mental health counseling, mental health treatment because they have insurance under the Affordable Care Act. My role in the Senate is to preserve that and to fight like hell against far-right, tea-party efforts to scale that back and to repeal it."

Brown says he’s also pushing a bill creating a pilot project that would allow retired police officers and firefighters to buy into Medicare before they reach age 65.

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.