BROWN STATEMENT ON HOUSE BILL TO DISMANTLE WALL STREET REFORM
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee – issued the following statement as the House Financial Services Committee marked up Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s (R-TX) sprawling bill that would dismantle the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The legislation would gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has returned almost $12 billion to 29 million Americans who have been cheated by shadowy debt collectors, for-profit schools, and payday lenders.
“It’s ironic that one day after the President said he’s considering breaking up big banks, House Republicans are fighting to give mega-banks and payday lenders everything they want and more. Democrats have shown we’re willing to work with Republicans to tailor the rules where it makes sense, but this bill guts important Wall Street reforms that protect American families from being on the hook for another bailout.”
BROWN SECURES COMMITMENT FROM VA DIRECTOR TO CORRECT PROBLEMS FOUND IN NEW REPORT
Brown (D-OH) secured a commitment from Cincinnati VA Medical Center Director Vivian Hutson that the VA will follow new recommendations out from the Office of the VA Inspector General to ensure veterans aren’t put at risk of infection due to dirty equipment. The Inspector General released a new report today at Brown’s request, following a series of complaints by whistleblowers last year. Brown, who is the only member of the Ohio delegation to sit on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also successfully insisted that the Inspector General follow up in-person to ensure appropriate changes are being made.
Brown has been working for more than a year to secure leadership changes and corrective actions to address whistleblower concerns at the Cincinnati VA.
“This cannot be just another report that gets filed away on a shelf. We need to make sure the VA takes action to address this problem,” Brown said. “Nothing is more important than taking care of our veterans. We have taken important steps to ensure veterans can get the best possible care. But our job is never done, and I am continuing to communicate with the VA, local workers and veterans to hold the Cincinnati VA accountable for meeting the standards our veterans deserve.”
The Inspector General found that there were ongoing problems with clean and dirty equipment being stored together, which can put veterans at risk of infection. As the report states, “We substantiated that clean and dirty patient care equipment were stored together in the Community Living Center following closure of an OIG recommendation made during a review of the facility in October 2014 (CAP Review of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, Report No. 14-04215-99, February 4, 2015).”
The report continues, “We recommended that the Facility Director ensure that clean and dirty patient care equipment items are stored separately in the Community Living Center, that managers monitor compliance, and that monitors include shower litters and wheelchairs as specific items.”
Brown insisted the Inspector General follow up in person to ensure the correct steps are taken to address the problem and also to monitor ongoing infection rates, reports of non-sterile surgical equipment and other concerns.
Today’s report addresses some of the questions Brown posed to the Inspector General’s office last year. Another report is expected at a later date.
BROWN INTRODUCES BILL TO STOP GOVERNMENT FROM TAKING AWAY SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS TO PAY OFF STUDENT LOANS
Older Americans and Americans with Disabilities Face Financial Hardship as Federal Government Withholds Social Security Benefits for Skyrocketing Student Loan Payments
Brown (D-OH) introduced a bill to protect Americans who receive Social Security from having their benefits garnished to pay outstanding federal debts like student loans.
“Americans work hard to earn their Social Security and we cannot allow it to be stolen away by student debt,” Brown said. “Instead of going after seniors and the disabled, the government should be working to address the skyrocketing cost of student debt.”
The bill, which Brown introduced with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act, would repeal a decades-old change in law that allowed earned benefits to be garnished by the federal government to collect federal debts, like student loans, home loans owed to the Veterans Administration and food stamp overpayments.
The number of Americans who have had their benefits garnished by the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years – from 36,000 in 2002 to a staggering 173,000 in 2015 – nearly a fivefold increase. That includes certain people under 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
Social Security provides vital benefits to millions of Americans who worked and paid into the system. To support the purpose of the program as a fundamental lifeline, the original law protected these earned benefits from attempts to recover all debts. These changes, made in 1996, were never fully debated in Congress, yet they continue to have a profound effect on beneficiaries living on fixed incomes today. Although the 1996 legislation included some provisions to protect the most vulnerable, those protections have not been updated in 20 years. The legislation reestablishes protections in Social Security and other benefit programs, such as Railroad Retirement and Black Lung Benefits, which were in place for more than 40 years before the change was made.
U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are also cosponsoring the bill.
The bill is supported by Social Security Works, The Arc of the United States, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), AFL-CIO, The Economic Opportunity Institute, The National Organization for Women, Justice in Aging, Gray Panthers NYC, Alliance for Retired Americans, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Global Policy Solutions, AARP, The American Federation of Government Employees, and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW.
BROWN URGES AIRLINE CEOS TO IMPROVE SUBCONTRACTOR PAY, BENEFITS
Senator’s Plan to Restore Value of Work Highlights Increased Use of Subcontracted Employees by U.S.-Based Airlines
Brown (D-OH) is pushing for better wages and benefits for subcontracted workers at the nation’s major airlines. As airline executives testify on Capitol Hill in front of the House Committee on Transportation, Brown and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent letters to the CEOs of ten major airlines urging them to improve the pay and benefits of their subcontractor workforce.
In March, Brown unveiled a new plan to help restore the value of work, which noted the increased use of subcontractors by airlines over the last several decades, especially to fill their lowest-wage jobs. In an effort to cut costs and boost profits, the airline industry has increasingly outsourced its on-the-ground service workers, subcontracting positions like baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and wheelchair attendants. While these workers are required to abide by many of the standards of the airline they subcontract for, they often receive minimal pay and benefits and lack basic workplace protections.
Brown’s plan highlights how increased use of this practice has contributed to the declining value of work in the U.S. Brown has advocated for better protections for subcontracted workers and his plan offers specific policy changes to help expand benefits for them.
In letters to the CEOs of American, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, and United Airlines, Brown wrote: “While companies insist on strict adherence to company policy by its subcontracted workforce as it relates to employees’ activities and procedures, these same requirements too rarely extend to worker protection measures. Shielded from industry labor standards and oversight, wages in these positions have fallen dramatically…”
Further, the subcontracted workers at many airports, including Cleveland Hopkins International, often go without basic workplace protections, the Senator added. Brown and Booker asked the airline executives to provide more information on their subcontracted workforce, including the number of subcontractors and their pay, benefits, and working conditions.
The letter comes while airline executives from Alaska, American, Southwest, and United testify in front of the House Committee on Transportation about customer service issues across the industry this week.
FOLLOWING ROUND-TABLES WITH OHIO WORKERS, BROWN RELEASES FOUR-POINT PLAN FOR NAFTA RENEGOTIATION
Senator Sends Letter to Trump Outlining Strategy, Priorities for Securing Best Deal for American Workers
Brown (D-OH) provided an update on his four-point plan for securing the best deal for American workers in any renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and his efforts to work with President Trump to rewrite U.S. trade policy. Brown’s plan follows a series of round-tables with Ohio workers in recent weeks to get their input on what the priorities should be for a renegotiated NAFTA, and Brown was joined on the call by Rich Crayon, a member of UAW Local 12 who participated in Brown’s round-table in Toledo.
“American jobs shouldn’t be up for negotiation, and American workers can’t be traded away as bargaining chips,” said Brown. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve held round-tables with workers across Ohio to get their input and hear what they believe trade policy should look like. By setting high standards, putting workers ahead of corporations, and refusing to compromise on outsourcing, we can create the best possible deal for all American workers.”
Brown’s plan outlines new strategies that the U.S. has not used in negotiations over past trade deals. First, he calls on the White House to secure commitments from Mexico and Canada on anti-outsourcing provisions and Buy America protections before even beginning negotiations. Second, he’s urging the Administration to develop individualized negotiation strategies for manufacturing sectors that have been hurt by outsourcing. The goal is to ensure that American workers aren’t pitted against each other as bargaining chips in a negotiation.
Next, Brown says any new deal must include more meaningful enforcement mechanisms for American workers and do away with special courts that allow multi-national corporations to undermine U.S. laws and take advantage of American workers.
Finally, Brown says the Administration must be inclusive and transparent throughout the negotiations to ensure American workers and consumers have an equal seat at the table with multi-national corporations. A PDF of Brown’s letter to Trump is available here.
Brown held a series of round-tables with Ohio workers in recent weeks to get their input on what the priorities should be for a renegotiated NAFTA. Brown spoke with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week as the White House reaffirmed its commitment to renegotiating NAFTA, and the letter continues Brown’s efforts to work with President Trump to fulfill the President’s campaign promises on trade.
“If we do not improve current and future trade agreements and secure manufacturing jobs in the U.S., there won’t be any Americans left to purchase the products,” said Crayon.
Immediately after President Trump’s election, Brown reached out to his transition team to offer his help on retooling U.S. trade policy. Brown wrote to Trump in November offering specific steps to work together on trade and Trump responded with a handwritten note. Since then, Brown has spoken with the President about Buy America and had multiple conversations with top White House trade advisers, including Ross and USTR nominee Robert Lighthizer.
Brown opposed NAFTA when it was first passed. He now sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements.
Brown’s Four Point Plan for Securing the Best Deal for American Workers
1. SECURE ANTI-OUTSOURCING AND BUY AMERICA PROVISIONS UP FRONT
We know what causes outsourcing: low wages, exploited workers and weak, or non-existent, environmental protections in other countries encourage companies to relocate where it’s cheaper to do business. This has created a race to the bottom that hurts all workers, brings down wages and jeopardizes clean air and water. So Brown’s plan calls on the Administration to secure commitments from Mexico and Canada to enforce strict worker and environmental protections before even sitting down at the negotiating table.
In the past, U.S. trade negotiators have used up their leverage without securing strong enough standards to protect American jobs. By securing strong anti-outsourcing provisions up front, Brown’s plan ensures American jobs aren’t up for negotiation.
In addition to tough worker and environmental protections, Brown’s plan insists that Mexico and Canada agree up front that Buy America standards will not be weakened in negotiations.
2. DON’T PIT AMERICAN WORKERS AND INDUSTRIES AGAINST EACH OTHER IN THE NEGOTIATIONS
Too often, U.S. trade negotiators have pitted American workers and industries against each other as bargaining chips in the negotiation. For example, auto industry priorities get weighed against the needs of farmers. American workers shouldn’t be horse-traded simply for the sake of cutting a deal. A renegotiated NAFTA must be a good deal for all workers.
So, Brown’s plan calls on the White House to develop individualized negotiation strategies for manufacturing sectors that have been hurt by outsourcing. Identifying sectors that are susceptible to outsourcing and developing plans to address their unique needs and vulnerabilities in advance will ensure American workers and industries aren’t sacrificed during negotiations.
3. BUILD ENFORCEMENT TOOLS THAT FAVOR AMERICAN WORKERS, NOT FOREIGN CORPORATIONS WHEN THE DEAL IS VIOLATED
Even good trade deals don’t mean anything if they aren’t enforced. For too long, U.S. free trade agreements have included ineffective procedures for workers to challenge violations and super-sized procedures for corporations. Investor-state dispute settlement provisions have created private, C-suite courts that allow foreign corporations to undermine U.S. laws and take advantage of American workers, while workers wait years for trade violations to be addressed – if they are addressed at all.
Brown’s plan would do away with special courts for corporations and create a better process for workers to get remedies if Mexico and Canada violate the agreement.
4. INCLUDE WORKERS IN THE NEGOTIATIONS
Time after time, we’ve seen corporate lobbyists writing trade deals behind closed doors, while American workers are locked out.
Brown’s plan calls on the White House to make U.S. proposals public before and after each negotiating round and give workers, consumers and public interest advocates equal representations with corporations on Trade Advisory Committees that wield special influence in negotiations.
BROWN REINTRODUCES BILL TO PROTECT AGAINST DISCRIMINATION ON BASIS OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY
Senator also Renewed Efforts to Ban So-Called Conversion Therapy
Brown (D-OH) reintroduced legislation to expand federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Many states still do not have explicit non-discrimination laws, leaving some in the LGBT community without protection. The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, education, federal financial assistance, employment, housing, credit determinations and federal jury service.
“Too many of our LGBT friends, family and neighbors face continued discrimination. That’s just wrong, and our laws should protect them from discrimination in all its forms,” said Brown. “Everyone deserves equal access to education, housing and employment. These protections are long overdue and will help us further protect LGBT Ohioans.”
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations, during the federal financial assistance process, and in employment. LGBT individuals would be further protected under the Equality Act by the amendment of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991, and the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
Brown also renewed his efforts to protect children from “so-called” conversion therapy. Last week, he helped reintroduce the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act – a bill to ban conversion therapy, condemning it as misguided and harmful. Conversion therapy or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE) is a practice where a health care provider or counselor seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Brown has helped lead the fight against conversion therapy and, in May 2015, he introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution of 2015, condemning conversion therapy and declaring that it should be prohibited from being practiced on minors.
This bill would clarify that providing “conversion therapy” to any person in exchange for monetary compensation, or advertising such services, is an unfair and deceptive act or practice. Furthermore, this bill would explicitly clarify that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the responsibility to enforce this provision and would provide State Attorneys General authority to enforce this provision in federal court.
Laws to ban conversion therapy, in some instances, have been referred to as “Leelah’s Law” in remembrance of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager from Kings Mills, Ohio, who tragically took her own life in 2014 after being subjected to conversion therapy.
BROWN STATEMENT ON PROPOSED CUTS TO WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY
Brown has Worked with Members of Both Parties to Secure Federal Resources, Address Opioid Crisis in Ohio Communities
COLUMBUS —Brown (D-OH) released the following statement in response to reports that the Trump Administration plans to significantly cut the budget for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“If these reports are true, President Trump will need to explain himself to the families whose loved ones have been taken by this epidemic and to the Ohio county morgues who’ve had to bring in extra refrigerated trucks to keep up with the overdose deaths in our state.”
BROWN BLASTS HOUSE HEALTHCARE VOTE TO TAKE CARE FROM 900,000 OHIOANS
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Brown (D-OH) warned that the Republican healthcare plan passed in the House of Representatives could rip care away from up to 900,000 Ohioans, including more than 200,000 Ohioans receiving treatment for opioid addiction. The plan also weakens protections for those living with preexisting conditions, and does nothing to lower costs or improve care for Ohioans.
“I agree with Governor Kasich: we cannot allow Washington politicians with taxpayer-funded health insurance to rip coverage away from Ohioans who are battling cancer, getting regular checkups for the first time or finally getting treatment for their opioid addiction,” said Brown. “This bill threatens the healthcare coverage of nearly 1 million Ohioans, including 200,000 currently battling addiction, and allows companies to jack up prices on people with preexisting conditions like asthma and diabetes. This bill is heartless, it is bad for Ohio, and it will leave real Ohioans struggling to afford care. Instead of taking care away, we should be working to reduce the price of prescription drugs and improve care for everyone.”
BROWN: REPORT HIGHLIGHTS RACE TO THE BOTTOM THAT DRIVES DOWN WAGES, SENDS JOBS OVERSEAS
Senator Has Called for Strong Labor Standards in Trade Agreements to Protect American Jobs from Being Outsourced
Brown (D-OH) is highlighting a new report from the Communications Workers of America that sheds light on the race to the bottom driven by low-wage work in foreign countries. Brown has sponsored legislation to prevent outsourcing of U.S. call centers and has called for better labor standards in trade agreements to help protect American jobs from being outsourced to countries with low-wages and poor worker protections.
The report – which examined 38 call centers in eight other countries – calls attention to the low wages and exploitative working conditions workers in these countries face.
“This report underscores what we already know – when our trade deals don’t call for strong labor standards and wages, it offshores jobs to countries where it’s cheaper to do business,” said Brown. “Shipping labor to low-wage countries where workers are exploited has created a race to the bottom that hurts all workers and drives down wages everywhere. It has to stop. That’s why I’ve always said we need our trading partners to agree to enforceable labor standards from day one.”
Just this week, Brown wrote to President Trump outlining specific steps his Administration should take to renegotiate NAFTA. The four-point plan calls for securing a commitment from Mexico and Canada to enforce strict worker and environmental protections before beginning negotiations. In the past, U.S. trade negotiators have used up their leverage without securing strong enough labor standards to protect jobs in the U.S.
Brown is also the cosponsor of a bill specifically aimed at preventing the outsourcing of call centers by giving preference in federal contracts to companies that haven’t relocated call centers overseas, creating a list of companies who outsource call centers to make them ineligible for federal grants and loans, and requiring companies to notify the Department of Labor before they relocate call centers.