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Sen. Brown Wants A Bipartisan Tax Plan To Help People

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The fate of tax legislation now belongs to the United States Senate. Just as with health insurance, the House has passed a bill. And senators are deep into their own debate. Part of that debate was shared widely on social media the last few days. Video of a Senate committee session shows Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown denouncing the bill and drawing a response from Republican Orrin Hatch.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERROD BROWN: Well, this tax cut really is not for the middle class. It's for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages - well, it's a good selling point. But we know companies don't just give away higher wages. Just spare us the bank shots. Spare us the sarcasm and the satire and...

ORRIN HATCH: And I'm going to spare it, but I'm going to just say to you that I come from the poor people. And I've been here working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I'm just doing this for the rich. Give me a break.

INSKEEP: Well, let's continue that discussion with the Democratic side of it. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is on the line.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

BROWN: Good to be back, Steve - thank you.

INSKEEP: And I want to hear just a bit more of Orrin Hatch. He said he wants to work in a bipartisan way to help people, wants to work with people like you if only he could. Let's listen to a little more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HATCH: Now, all I can say is, I like you personally very much. But I'm telling you, this bull crap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while. To do it right at the end of this was just not right.

INSKEEP: OK. He likes you personally. That's something, Senator. But have you missed a chance to be bipartisan?

BROWN: Not at all - first of all, as you said at the introduction to the audio that I denounced the bill - in no way was I denouncing the chairman. I was just pointing out that this bill is not what Republicans say it is. We absolutely have tried to make this bipartisan - twice with the president, once in the president's Cabinet room with about 15 members of the Senate Finance Committee, mostly Republicans.

I brought up to the president my Patriot Corporation Act, which simply says, if companies do the right thing - they pay good wages, they provide decent benefits, they keep their production in the United States - then they should get a lower tax rate. And I also brought up our Working Families Tax Relief Act, which puts significant numbers of dollars in the pockets of people making 25, 50, $75,000 a year.

INSKEEP: Now, I think I hear here Senator, though, a basic difference in philosophy. You're saying that you want to lay out some different conditions. And if companies meet them, they get a tax break. The Republican approach is, leave it to companies, just cut business taxes. Why wouldn't that work?

BROWN: Well, it wouldn't work because what - we've seen that in the past. Let me back up. When I said those two things, the president said he liked them. He said he likes that idea. He's talked - in an interview he did with, I believe, either Forbes or Fortune, he talked about ideas like the Patriot Corporation Act. It's what he campaigned on. It's not what the Republicans have written in their bill. And we could - with these two ideas, we could have had bookends of a good tax reform bill - lowering corporate taxes like this, especially because their provisions will actually accelerate the outsourcing of jobs.

We have seen companies - we've seen it become a business plan in the last 30 years for thousands of corporations. They shut down production in Mansfield, Ohio, in Garfield Heights, in Toledo and move it overseas, get a tax break, send the production back to the United States. This corporate tax bill that they've passed does more of that and focuses almost not at all on the middle class. And that's not what the American public wants. That was the point of my statement with Senator Hatch. I'm sorry he was so defensive, and he took it personally. It wasn't aimed that way. But he should be defensive because this bill clearly doesn't work for the middle class.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, are you likely to stop this bill? You'd need to get three Republicans on your side.

BROWN: I don't know. I think that when the public hears us say over and over, if you want to cut taxes for the middle class - as they say they do - then let's cut taxes for the middle class. Let's take out the corporate middleman. You give tax cuts to the wealthy with - and corporations with the belief that it trickles down. It hasn't worked. History shows that doesn't build the economy. What you do is you focus on the middle class. You build the economy out. That way, you create more demand and buying power. That's how you grow the economy.

INSKEEP: Senator, I want to ask you about your Democratic colleague Al Franken who has acknowledged now sexual misconduct after he was accused by a woman relating to an incident from a number of years ago. I know that there's an ethics committee investigation that's been called for. But there is a basic question, should Senator Franken keep his job?

BROWN: Well, Senator Franken said what he did was wrong. I agree with him. I support the ethics investigation. Let's talk after the investigation. I hope it's done quickly and fairly. And let's make decisions then. And let's have that conversation after the ethics committee has done what it should do, as we've all supported.

INSKEEP: Is there a difference between Al Franken's case and the case of Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who has been accused by numerous women?

BROWN: Well, I don't want to get into a comparison. It's wrong - all of it, period. We have a serious problem in this country, in Congress, in Hollywood, in business everywhere. And I think the victims have shown courage in speaking out - the bravery to come forward. I hope we'll see meaningful change.

INSKEEP: There also have been some Democrats who have been saying, hey, maybe it's time to revisit the case of Bill Clinton and the way that we thought about the accusers of Bill Clinton as many as 20 years ago or more. Is it time to revisit the case of Bill Clinton?

BROWN: Well, I think the House - I mean, the House voted impeachment 20 - more or less 20 years ago. The Senate did a lengthy public trial, did not remove him. I don't object to talking about that. I don't know what revisiting it means. But I hope that all of this together makes the workplace safer and better for women and that we need to address these issues.

INSKEEP: I guess one reason it's raised is because there were numerous men who accused President Clinton of numerous things. It wasn't just the Monica Lewinsky affair that was at the center of the impeachment.

BROWN: Yeah, that's right. There were. And that's - I mean, that's why people are talking about it. I say - I don't know what revisited means. I mean, he didn't resign. He went through a lengthy trial. He was not exactly exonerated at the end of this lengthy trial, but he wasn't removed. And the country moved on. But I think these issues need to be addressed now, whether it's the president of the United States or whether it's Roy Moore or whether it's Al Franken or whether it's Bill Clinton.

INSKEEP: Senator, always a pleasure talking with you - thank you very much.

BROWN: All right. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio speaking earlier this morning. And since that interview, we have a bit more news. CNN has reported a second woman now says that Senator Al Franken touched her inappropriately while they were taking a photo together at a state fair in 2010. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.