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Sen. Sherrod Brown's Recipe to Stop the Economic Hemorrhaging: Fix Our Manufacturing Policies

An interview with Sherrod Brown, the progressive senator from Ohio who calls for unleashing America's economy to build wind turbines and solar panels.

As chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy, Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH, has been a strong and consistent advocate for the middle class and working families. Often described as "Congress's leading proponent of American manufacturing," he has been steadfastly working with the Obama administration to create a national manufacturing policy. Over the past year, Brown held a series of subcommittee hearings examining ways to rebuild U.S. manufacturing and is also fighting to ensure that our nation's trade laws work for domestic manufacturing and American workers.

The follow is a transcript of an interview with Senator Brown.

Kathleen Wells: Later this month or early in February, it is expected that the Senate will take up a jobs bill [Jobs for Main Street Act]. How can Americans be certain that this bill will actually create jobs and put people back to work?

Sherrod Brown: First of all, without the first Recovery Act, we would have been in a much worse economic position than we are in now. It clearly created jobs. Even though we were losing that number of jobs, it obviously created jobs in terms of direct spending on infrastructure. It created jobs by putting tens of billions of dollars in state and local governments so that they didn't lay off teachers, firefighters and mental health counselors, etc.—all the kinds of things that state and local governments funded.

This jobs bill needs to do more direct infrastructure spending. We are facing a huge infrastructure deficit to pass on to our children. Water, sewer, highways, bridges, universities, broadband—all the things we have not funded as well as we should have, and have not built infrastructure well enough, are a huge problem for our children and grandchildren if we don't do it right now.

Second, this bill needs to make sure that it's got a manufacturing policy, so that we are moving forward in building wind turbines, solar panels and other kinds of alternative energy manufacturing that this nation absolutely needs to do.

KW: I know you are focused and have drafted legislation, the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology Act (IMPACT), regarding a national manufacturing policy. Will this legislation be added as an amendment to the jobs bill? And speak to me about the necessity for a national policy regarding manufacturing.

SB: A component of having a manufacturing policy is helping companies transition from the auto supply chain or other kinds of manufacturing into alternative energy. If you make glass for trucks, you can make glass for solar panels. If you build gears for cars, you can make gear boxes for wind turbines. We need to assist companies to do that—that's part of the manufacturing policy.

That legislation [IMPACT] has been introduced—I introduced it—and in total amended into the House version of the climate change bill. We are working with the White House and others to make sure that whether standing alone, part of the jobs bill, or part of the climate change bill, this idea gets written into law.

Other parts of what should be a manufacturing policy are assisting companies with credit. So many small companies can't get credit. They have the capacity to produce—they have customers, more and more—but they are not getting financing.

Another part of the manufacturing policy should be the [Hollings] Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). This is a relatively small government program that helps individual companies deal with cutting their energy costs and helping them export. All the things small companies don't have the resources to do/hire will get help from the federal government this way.

Also, we need a very different-looking trade policy than the one we have now, including dealing with China currency. China is gaming the system, i.e. manipulating currency values to gain advantage with manufacturing exports.

And we need assistance for small businesses. We need to help the Small Business Administration by waiving some of the fees so that small businesses can grow and small businesses can get start-ups—i.e., start-ups can come forward by getting some low-interest loans from the federal government through the Small Business Administration.

KW: Be more specific about how a national manufacturing policy will defend against unfair trade.

SB: Well, you start by enforcing trade laws. Obama has had two big opportunities to enforce trade laws in this country in the last four months, and he has taken both of them and done the right thing with them. One was with Chinese tires. They were clearly "surging" Chinese tires in this country. They were breaking the trade rules that they had agreed to. The President's decision created hundreds of jobs almost immediately in the U.S. tire industry because China was cheating on this.

Second was [Chinese company] Oil Country Tubular Steel Pipes [which manufacturers] steel pipes that are sold for oil and gas exploration. This is a growing market. The Chinese clearly were dumping steel in this country. They were subsidizing their steel through subsidized energy costs for the producers of China through gaming the currency the way that they have. So, we can enforce trade laws. That's the most important thing the President can do.

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