NEAL CONAN, host:
As we look ahead to the 110th Congress, we bring you another installment in our New Voices in Politics series. In electoral politics, Ohio is often a bellwether and proved so again during last month's midterm elections, when Democrats seized control of both houses of Congress. In the state's race for the United States Senate, Sherrod Brown, a Democratic congressman from Cleveland, defeated Republican incumbent Mike DeWine.
Sherrod Brown is a seven-term U.S. congressman with a track record of economic populism. He also supports stem-cell research and voted against the War in Iraq. If you have questions for Sherrod Brown about the economy, the war or other issues that the next Congress will be dealing with, give us a call.
What do you want the next Congress to do? Should they work with the White House or confront it? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. And Senator-elect Brown joins us now from the studios of member station WCPN in Cleveland.
First of all, congratulations on your victory, and thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): Thank you, Neal. I like being called a new anything.
CONAN: New anything is good.
Mr. BROWN: New voice, new face, whatever you said.
CONAN: There you go. Well, new in the Senate, in any case.
Mr. BROWN: Okay, new there.
CONAN: And you have to realize that you have one of the rarest opportunities in American politics. You have a six-year term.
Mr. BROWN: I know. A very, very good friend of mine in Lorain, where I live, never ran for office before. He's my age. He ran for judge. He was unopposed. He got a six-year term. I've been in politics for 30 years, and it took me that long to get a six-year term. Some things in life just aren't fair, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: I guess not. Now obviously, a lot of time on one side of Capitol Hill, moving on to the other. Does it feel like a new beginning?
Mr. BROWN: Yeah, it does feel like a new beginning in part because we're going to be able to do things now. In the House, we were playing defense and on the Iraq War. We were playing defense on trying to stop bad trade agreements, playing defense trying basically to answer the betrayal of democracy that, in terms of interest-group power and the drug companies and the oil industry and all that, and what they were doing to our country, and what Congress was encouraging them and aiding and abetting them.
And now, we're going to be able to do things like good trade agreements, increase the minimum wage, fix no child left behind - (unintelligible) and on issues like that. Work for tax deductibility for college students, for access to higher education - all the kinds of things that a lot of people in this country are demanding, we're going to actually be able to accomplish this year.
CONAN: I wonder, for years now, many conservatives saw their purpose in life as sort of rolling back the New Deal. Do you see your purpose in life now as rolling back the conservatives, the Reagan revolution, if you will?
Mr. BROWN: I think - I used the word betrayal a moment ago, Neal. I think that Ohioans, and people across the country, saw what - to see what's happened to our government in the last five years as a betrayal of our values and a betrayal of what we stand for as a nation.
When the drug companies write the Medicare law, when HMOs write health insurance legislation, when the oil companies dictate energy policy and Halliburton has way too much influence on Iraq - on the policy in Iraq. Something - the people do feel that sense of betrayal. So I think the first thing is we break the - the hammerlock, if you will, that a lot of this interest groups have on our government and we move forward from there.
But there's been a consensus in this country for a long time on when things like a higher minimum wage and a better - strong environmental policy and on a whole host of issues on access to college education, all the things that all of us campaigned for this year.
And that's, that's why that progressive populist message that's been part of my whole career, but a part of virtually every Senate Democratic candidates this year. Why that prevailed? Because people really do want to see a government on the side of the public, not a government that continues to betray our values by allowing special interests the kind of power they've had under the Bush years.
CONAN: To be fair, though, we've had other new voices or perhaps newer to Washington. The senator-elect from Missouri who really saw herself much more as a centrist, and do all the newly elected Democrats share your opinions, do you think?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I think her - her words are chosen differently from mine. But she is, she and I are saying pretty much the same thing on minimum wage, on fixing Medicare Part D - so that it's written for seniors, not for the drug companies and the HMOs - on trade policy, on Iraq, on most of the major issues, on embryonic stem cell research. The nine Democrats are pretty much on the same place.
Some used different rhetoric perhaps and I, absolutely, when I talk about a betrayal of our values from what we've seen in the last few years and when I talk about a populist agenda. I'm also, I'm not saying don't work with President Bush. I think we do work with him, we do work to build bipartisanship by bipartisan majorities on the minimum wage, on embryonic stem cell research, on fixing Medicare Part D. And I'm hopeful the president will work with us on it.
But I also don't think we compromise our values, we compromise on legislation. But I'm so convinced that the public - I won a race against an incumbent sitting on the Appropriations Committee, handing out a billion dollars to Ohio organizations and groups, and who got almost every single newspaper endorsement. I won a race by almost 13 points in a Republican-leaning state because my message on economic populism is right down the middle. It's right down main Street USA, main street Ohio - and I think that other people in Washington understand that.
CONAN: We're talking with Representative, and now senator-elect Sherrod Brown of Ohio, new voice in politics.
You're listening TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Paul(ph), Paul is with us from Worthington, Ohio.
PAUL (Caller): Hi, Neal, Sherrod. Sherrod, I have been a supporter of yours for some time. You were at my congressional district when you were a congressman, but - anyhow, we grew up in the same town, Mansfield. And I agree, at least 100 percent, with most or everything you're doing. I have specific question. And I will be quite honest, this affects me personally and other friends and family. What can we do - maybe as a stopgap. In other words, not necessarily just flipping the whole thing over all at once because that will raise a lot of opposition - about basic health care for everybody - and I don't mean that, you know, everybody gets to get, you know, cosmetic surgery - nothing of that sort - I just mean that there is some kind of a net through which people will not fall in this country.
Mr. BROWN: All right. Thank you, Paul. Good question. I think you start with the cost, and that means reigning in the cost of prescription drugs through direct negotiation of prices by Medicare or it means a reimportation where companies like Drug Mart can go on the national - go internationally through those countries which have a drug protection regimen - drug safety regimen like an FDA Canada for instance or Britain, and buy drugs that significant the same prescription, the same dosage, the same drug, the same packaging for far less money. I think one of the things we do is deal with cost.
The other we need to do is work on - we've been working on legislation for years that didn't have hearings recently in Congress, that President Clinton actually supported to extend Medicare voluntarily to 55 to 64-year-olds, people who would - it would be revenue neutral because the premium would be high enough to keep it that way, but would be within the cost of - within the budgets of a whole lot of people. Give them the opportunity to buy into Medicare at that age - it's an age where people often lose their health insurance if their companies lay them off or their company shut down. And it's an age where people obviously are reaching - as they get older, obviously, need more health care or more in need of all kinds of health care.
So that's incremental, but it's incremental with a big step. And I think it will deal with a whole lot of people that now don't have insurance but, at the same time, we've got to work much better in cost containment than we have.
PAUL: Thank you very much, Sherrod.
Mr. BROWN: Thank you.
PAUL: I just want to say that I'm one of those people who would be happy to pay $300 a month for a premium with a $5,000 deductible. I would be delighted.
Mr. BROWN: Good.
CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call and good luck.
PAUL: Thank you and bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's...
Mr. BROWN: I think we can do better than that with voluntary buying Medicare. They have the same comprehensive nature to it, but in a lower cost than Paul just suggest that he was willing to pay.
CONAN: Let's go on to talk with Jeff(ph) now. Jeff from Ewing, New Jersey.
JEFF (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.
JEFF: So my question has to do with fiscal discipline. And, you know, the president has used the term tax-and-spend-Democrats. I think that's (unintelligible) He, himself, is sort of a don't tax-and-spend-Republican. But the talk of a new program just makes me really nervous. And I want to ask the senator elect if he believes the Democrats can truly show this fiscal restraints and help us deal with the deficit? I mean, I don't care if we spend - tax and spend 35 percent of the GDP or if we tax and spend 17 percent of the GDP, but it makes no sense to tax 17 percent and spend 35 percent.
Mr. BROWN: Yeah. Exactly. Just in the last five years, as I've been, you know, work with the Bush White House, but work with a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority most of the time in the Senate, not the entire time quite. But, we have, in that time, we've embarked in $2 billion a week war. We have seen tax cuts that overwhelmingly go to the wealthiest Americans. And we've seen a doubling of earmarks when five years ago or six years ago, we had budget surplus as far as the eye could see, some $5 trillion budget surplus over the next 10 years. We now have budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
But it's those three components particularly that we need to address. It means redeployment strategy out of Iraq in the next 12 to 18 months. It means no more tax cuts, especially for those - the wealthiest in our society. And it means some restricting or eliminating the number - restricting the number...
Mr. BROWN: ...of earmarks as they have doubled over those last five years or more than double, I believe so.
CONAN: And I'm afraid, we're going to have to end it there.
Mr. BROWN: All of that will matter.
CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much for the call. Senator Brown, congratulations again. Thanks for being with us.
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