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Sen. Sherrod Brown on stimulus package: 'We want to get it passed tomorrow or Sunday at the latest'

Senator Sherrod Brown, who also serves as Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, joined the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest stimulus outlook in Congress.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: That would be Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio. He is the chairman of what we now call the committee, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Senator Brown, it is always good to have you here. Oh, we need you to unmute, senator. I'm sorry. And we got you there.

SHERROD BROWN: That's better, sorry. It's always been called Senate Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs, but that's its name. But it's only always been called just Senate Banking or Senate, what can we do for Wall Street, Committee. And those days are behind us. But thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

ADAM SHAPIRO: And it's good to have you here. I'm one of the guilty with Senate Banking. I will refer to it by its proper name going forward, because millions of Americans need assistance right now. We even heard Jay Powell say he wants Americans to get a raise. And here we are with the Senate now taking up the COVID relief bill. What can you tell us about the chances of this being passed next week? Because we know there's a stall tactic from the other side of the aisle.

SHERROD BROWN: There's a slow walk. A senator from Wisconsin, who has, in the past, said he wants zero help to go out, is insisting that the clerk read the entire bill, which will take five hours, even if they read like an auctioneer. So that slows us down a little. Will be probably 100 amendments. We'll probably stay in all night, which is fine with all of us. We want to get this bill done. We want to get it passed tomorrow, or Sunday at the latest. Kick it back to the House, have them vote on it up or down, because they have to vote on the new version, and send it to the White House.

And it's so important to put shots in people's arms. It puts kids back in school. It puts money in people's pockets. And it puts workers back to work. And it's what we ought to be doing, clearly.

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Senator, it's Seana. I want to talk more about what is exactly in this bill because we had this last minute compromise on stimulus checks, making them more targeted. What's your reaction to that? Do you think Democrats should be holding a harder line when it comes to this?

SHERROD BROWN: No, I want to get this bill through. And it's got some amazing things in it. It cuts the child poverty rate in half. It fixes the multi-employer pension system. That's probably 100,000 people in my state. It helps local governments deal with layoffs of police and fire and children service workers and parks and sewers and streets. It does-- significant help for small business. So if we have to make a few minor changes-- and those are relatively minor-- full speed ahead, because I want to get it done. We just can't keep waiting. People are hurting. And the faster we move, the better.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Senator, it was PJ O'Rourke, the comedian, he used to say Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it. How do you get both sides to come together, especially with the $1,400 stimulus that several people need?

SHERROD BROWN: Yeah, well, you know, back in March, we came together unanimously. And the result of that, according to a number of studies, was 12 million people was the 12 million people stayed out of poverty that would have fallen into the pot. I mean, imagine that, 12 million people would have fallen into poverty during this pandemic if Congress hadn't moved. So we showed that government, when done right, makes a difference.

But then April, May, June, July, August, September, October, we did nothing. Senator McConnell said he sees no urgency. People started falling into poverty, as these benefits fell away. So we know government can work here. When Trump asked us to work with him, we did and passed a good bill. When Biden has asked Republicans to work with them, essentially, they've said no. I mean, they offered some one-third. It was not even a serious negotiation.

So, I want to do this, but this is a bipartisan bill. It's overwhelming support from the public, 65%, 70%, 75%. Republican senators aren't on board. But it's bipartisan to the public. And I don't think voters in Shelby, Ohio, or Van Wert, Ohio, care-- or Cleveland, Ohio, where you really care if it was bipartisan, if Mitch McConnell signed off on it. Or they just care about doing this, getting these benefits and getting the economy back on its feet.

SEANA SMITH: Senator, one thing that has not gotten bipartisan support is probably not going to be included in this bill-- minimum wage. We had the Senate parliamentarian ruling that it can't be included in the package as it goes through this reconciliation process. So I know you're a big proponent of it. That then begs the question, what's the path forward for a higher minimum wage?

SHERROD BROWN: We will keep trying. We will keep trying to put it in other bills. My first speech in the Senate 14 years ago was on minimum wage, January of 2007. The presiding officer that day was a freshman third year Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. That's how-- he was in the Senate, beginning in the Senate then. That's how long ago it's been since we've raised the minimum wage. So we keep trying. We find a way, and we will find a way.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Senator, I want to shift a little bit to the issue of taxes. And recently, you talked about companies laying off workers, cutting paychecks, et cetera. They call it cost cutting. I've gotten used to hearing the term efficiencies, which really means human beings are about to lose jobs. Is there a way to prevent that through the tax code? Because there are calls, for instance, Elizabeth Warren talking about a wealth tax. Would there be a way to prevent that which you worry about with workers, but also to help fund some of the government programs that have not been funded in years past?

SHERROD BROWN: Yeah, start with where it all began. And that is the trade policy and a tax policy that encouraged companies to move overseas. You'd save money. You'd not only get cheaper workers and weaker environmental laws if you moved to Mexico or Vietnam or China. You'd also get tax breaks too often. So you start by taking that away.

But let me share real quickly a proposal. I actually handed this to President Trump first time I met him in the Cabinet room in 2000-- I think late 2017. And the bill was called the Corporate Free Loader Bill. It said if a company pays wages that are so low that workers are eligible for Medicaid and food stamps and earned income tax credit and housing vouchers, Section 8 housing vouchers, they paid a higher tax rate. If that company paid their workers a living wage and they didn't have to rely on government, that company got a lower tax rate. If we start building a tax code reflecting that-- it's complicated, but there's ways of doing it. We see a very different corporate America.

But instead, we-- I did a hearing today in Banking and Housing Committee that I chair, and it was called Wall Street versus Workers. We know that productivity has gone up, executive compensation has exploded upward, that profits are up and wages have been flat for most of 20 years. And that's something wrong with the system. I'm for capitalism, to be sure. Capitalism creates wealth, but it's created-- it's essentially allowed that wealth to flow-- not allowed-- pushed that wealth to flow mostly to the top.

SEANA SMITH: Senator, you were talking earlier about working with the other side of the aisle. Is there anything that you think Democrats and Republicans can come together on when it comes to taxes?

SHERROD BROWN: Yeah, I'm working with Bill Cassidy. We did this at the end of last year. We're going to try to continue it. The people that were eligible for earned income tax credit could-- because they lost so much work in 2020, they had so much-- significantly fewer hours that when figuring their EITC, their Earned Income Tax Credit, they could go back to their 2019 taxes. Senator Cassidy and I went to McConnell. We got that in the last Recovery Act at the end of 2019. It saved two-- excuse me, two million Americans benefited from that.

So we can find ways. On the big questions, there's a big diversion of the two parties. But a lot of issues, we find a way. It's what I do as a Senator. It's probably how I get re-elected in a state that's trended Republican, because people know I'll work with Republicans when they're right on things. And we can find a way. But on these big questions of this package, it is bipartisan because the public says it is, no matter what members of Congress do.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Senator, I got to ask you about the headline today. The House actually is not in session, we believe, because of the threat from right-wing militia extremists. Yet the Senate is working. What's it like, especially on a day when the House passed that Voting Rights Act, which would address some of these issues, it would seem, that have torn Americans apart. What are the chances that might get out of the Senate?

SHERROD BROWN: Well, it's become the Republican operating rule that you-- the way to win elections now is to choose who your voters-- or whom your voters are. Choose who your voters are. I think it's whom your voters are. Anyway, that's become the Republican modus operandi, to mix metaphors there. And it's unfortunate that they have chosen to keep some people from voting so they can win elections, rather than trying to change your policies and appeal to those voters. So we're going to try to pass it.

I know Republicans will filibuster it, to be sure, because their state legislatures around the country are trying to squeeze and compromise and get people off the voting rolls. I've seen it in Ohio, the Secretary of State, that's been an embarrassment to that. I had that office many years ago. It's been an embarrassment watching him try to restrict people's right to vote.

SEANA SMITH: Senator, going back to what Adam was talking about, the threats against the Capitol today, the House canceling its session, how do we repair the damage that's been done to our democracy over the last several months, or some people argue the last couple of years?

SHERROD BROWN: And I would argue longer than that, but certainly that. Well, I think the first thing you do is we need-- well, 50% of Republicans still think the election was rigged. We need prominent Republicans. Mitch McConnell has done it. I give him credit. We need United States senators, members of Congress, Republican chairs, Republican state central committees to stand up and say the election wasn't rigged, Joe Biden won. The election was conducted fairly. They all know it was, even though whenever a Republican steps out of line and says something about it, they censor him. It's usually a him. Sometimes it's her.

But it starts with that. They've got to start saying, this is a problem. But the other thing is, part of the reason we learned that in the 1930s, the New Deal, the success of the New Deal wasn't just collective bargaining Social Security, better wages for people. It also was a defeat of-- it was a victory for democracy because people realized that capitalism and democracy can work in the United States. Other country-- in countries in Europe, they didn't work the same way, in some cases.

But if you can deal with wealth inequality by giving workers a chance and you really fight for the dignity of work, that will go a long way towards strengthening our democracy. To strengthen democracy, you need an economic system. You need capitalism with rules so that workers have a fighting chance.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Senator Sherrod Brown is the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. And I promise you, senator, next time, we're going to get an update on the legislation you introduced, the Ban Conflicted Trading Act. Because I know a lot of people want to see where this one goes, but we have to say thank you very much and all the best to you, senator.

SHERROD BROWN: Thanks for the very substantive questions from both of you. I always look forward to doing this interview, because it's like real stuff. Once you get the name of my committee right, it's real stuff.

ADAM SHAPIRO: [LAUGHS] I have been schooled, and we--


SHERROD BROWN: The guy from Cleveland makes the mistake. I mean, really. Don't let me down again.

ADAM SHAPIRO: You have my promise. All the best to Senator Sherrod Brown. We'll be right back after this.