SIDNEY — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, spoke about Social Security, the proposed Iran nuclear deal, clean water issues and the proposed trans-Pacific partnership to about 80 people Monday, Aug. 31, during an informal meeting, open to the public, at the Senior Center of Sidney and Shelby County.
Introduced by the chairman of Shelby County Democratic Party Executive and Central Committee Chairman Tom Kerrigan, Brown assured everyone that Social Security has been and continues to be a trustworthy program.
“The first Social Security check was sent in 1940 to a woman in Vermont,” he said. “Social Security has never missed a payment since. Is there anything else that has been so reliable? A decade ago, Bush wanted to privatize Social Security. Imagine what would have happened in 2007, 2009 if that had happened.”
To ensure that funds will be available in the long term, Brown favors raising the cap on the amount of income on which Social Security taxes are collected. The current cap is $120,000. Anyone who makes more than $120,000 in a year pays into Social Security at the rate of someone who makes $120,000.
“That’s the way to fix (Social Security). I don’t know if the Senate will do that. I don’t think they will, but they don’t need to right away,” Brown said. He noted that, as it is, Social Security is in good shape for at least another 20 years.
He also said he’s “leading the charge” in the Senate to raise the annual cost-of-living increase (COL)in Social Security payments. According to Brown, the COL is based each year on a 40-year-old’s cost of living.
“It should reflect the cost of living for retirees,” he said.
Concerning the nuclear armament deal with Iran that is currently under discussion in Congress, Brown said he is in favor of it.
“The no. 1 goal was to keep Iran from having nuclear weapons. if we were to back off from the agreement, Iran would have a weapon in a year and a delivery vehicle in another year,” Brown said. He acknowledged that it is not a perfect agreement, but the nature of negotiations necessitates that each side give up something.
“All of our allies in Europe support it,” he said. In response to a loud rebuttal by an audience member, who claims that the agreement is too complicated for anyone to really know what’s in it, Brown said that if the U.S. walks away the world will not hold Iran responsible, but America.
“If we walk away, any power we had, we’ll lose,” he added.
“I opposed the free trade agreement (NAFTA), I opposed the Central American trade agreement and I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Brown said. A native of Mansfield, he said he has seen 10 major plants, each employing 300 or more workers in his hometown, close in the last 20 years because of the first two trade deals.
“When husbands and wives both work at the same plant, a family’s entire income disappears,” he said. “I agree with the president on most things, but he’s wrong on this one. People on the east and west coasts feel differently. There are only two states that make more things than (Ohio does), Texas and California. We (in Ohio and other manufacturing states) get killed by these agreements.”
He also noted that when manufacturing moves offshore, so does innovation. He recounted a situation at the Dannon plant in Minster: Dannon had been purchasing the plastic cups for its yogurt. An engineer on the shop floor figured out that the cups could be made in the same plant as the yogurt and built a production line to do it.
“Innovation was on the shop floor,” Brown said. “Because we outsource jobs to Mexico and Asia, the innovation is done there.
Brown is the first senator from Ohio to sit on the Agriculture Committee and he has brought the algae-bloom/water-quality issue to the attention to Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture. Brown has worked with farmers to get them to use filter strips and to plant ground cover to prevent some of the run-off that causes the algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie.
“In the western basin, around Toledo, Lake Erie is 30 feet deep,” he said. “Lake Superior is 600 feet deep. With all the industries, farms, residences around Lake Erie, we have a lot more water-quality issues (because runoff goes into a 30-foot deep lake) than Lake Superior, which is mostly surrounded by forest and is 600 feet deep.”
He wears a lapel pin that looks like a canary in a cage to remind him that progress has been made.
“Miners used to carry a canary into the mines. If the canary died because of the gas in the mine, the miner knew to get out of there. We have changed rules with steel companies,” he said, and he has faith that farmers will adopt best practices, too.
In response to questions from attendees, Brown applauded veterans and their spouses, commended President Barak Obama for changing rules governing overtime pay for salaried workers, and said that science is still out on whether genetically modified food is bad.
He commisserated with a woman who deplores gun violence in the schools and said that the senate is pushing for the use of more generic drugs to lower health care costs.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.