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Brown on holding Senate: minimum wage, fairer taxes, Obamacare, Social Security

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CGE caught up with Ohio's senior U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, at an event Friday in Columbus that featured nationally known Social Security and Medicare Paladin Max Richtman, and other passionate speakers and field operatives who spoke about protecting seniors and issues critical to their quality of life, especially Social Security and Medicare.

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The new Liberal Lion

During the event held at the Martin Janis Senior Center adjacent to the Ohio State Fairgrounds located just east of The Ohio State University that wasn't broadcast to the media beforehand, Richtman asked Sen. Brown to take up the mantle of another liberal lawmaker in Washington who for Decades, in both the Senate and House, championed seniors and their rights.

As Sen. Brown sat in a warm room surrounded by 70 hearty souls who turned out on a frigid, snow-covered day, Mr. Richtman, a decades-long, seasoned Capital Hill staffer and senior-issues lobbyist, anointed Sen. Brown, the soon to be 62-year old whose gravelly voice and perennially tussled hair are trademarks of his progressive style of politics, as the next Claude Pepper.

A U.S. Florida Senator before he became a Sunshine State Congressman, Pepper earned a well deserved reputation as a Congressional liberal who was a strong and unwavering voice for seniors and issues key to their quality of life, especially Social Security and Medicare.

Sen. Brown, who successfully transitioned from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Senate in 2006 and won a second term last year in what is generally recognized as the most expensive Senate race and certainly of the most bitterly fought campaigns of the last election cycle, represents the next generation of "Liberal Lions" who without fear embrace the spirit of the late great Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy.

Even though the 2014 elections are still 331 days away, there is no lack of speculation about whether Senate Democrats can hang on to their slim margin in the Upper Chamber or whether Republicans can win the six net seats they need to regain control by mounting campaigns against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, widely called Obamacare after President Obama, who successfully took on the decades old task of reforming health care when he signed the ACA into law in 2010, which led to large wins by Republicans in the mid-term elections that November that whittled down the 60-seats Democrats held in the Senate and helped install Ohio Republican Congressman John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

But the political climate in the nation is such that in many states Tea Party Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, who along with their allies in the U.S. House stand in polar opposition to Sen. Brown, can shutdown the Senate from working or even the entire federal government, as happened in October for 16 days that cost $24 billion.

Can Dems control the Senate next year?

Current conventional wisdom isn't confident that Democrats can hold the Senate in the coming elections, especially as Democratic Senators in states the GOP's candidate last year Mitt Romney won go before voters in an election that historically has a lower voter turnout rate, that nearly always benefits GOP candidates.

With Republicans needing to win a net six seats next year to regain control of the Senate, Sen. Brown could find himself transfering to minority status next year if Republicans have the year they want. To avoid that reversal of fortune, CGE asked Sen. Brown what Democrats have to do to keep their majority next year.

Sen. Brown said that drawing contrasts between what Democrats want to do and what Republicans will do is critical to showing voters that if they elect the wrong people they will get bad results.

"We want to make the choice clear, make the contrast clear, what they stand for. We are going to try to increase the minimum wage, I don't know what Republicans are going to do, I hope they support it," he said, walking out the door with his traveling press secretary. "But if they don't, people should know that. They [Republicans] want to continue to cut Social Security, Democrats want to preserve it."

The non-response CGE received from Ohio Gov. John Kasich's office last week on whether the first-term governor who also wants Ohioans to rehire him next year will support a rise in the minimum wage is a clear indication that most Republicans won't be on board. Gov. Kasich's press secretary likewise declined to comment on whether the governor thinks inequality is the challenge of our time, as President Obama declared it in a speech delivered last week, which many White House watchers regard as recognizing the obvious growth in disparity between rich and poor. These same themes were played out last year, when President Obama was challenged by Mitt Romney, the richest man ever to run for President of the United States.

Ohio voted for President Obama a second consecutive time, pushing him over the top to win a second and final term. Gov. Kasich, who mirrors Mr. Romney in nearly every way, enjoys a small lead over his Democratic challenger next year, Ed FitzGerald of Cleveland, who like Sen Brown is generally aligned with protecting workers and workers' rights.

Ohio governor's race questions off limits

Sen. Brown is scheduled to be at a fundraiser for FitzGerald in Washington on Monday, though, but given the cascade of negative stories about FitzGerald's Lt. Governor running mate Eric Kearney's tax troubles, CGE was not surprised that Brown would not answer questions on Ohio's gubernatorial race.

But on issue after issue, Sen. Brown said positions need to be known. "We want a fairer tax system and they want to keep doing tax breaks for the rich," he said.

One issue GOP strategists believe will return them to the majority is running against Obamacare. Asked if Democrats need fear defending it between now and Election Day next year, Brown didn't hesitate or equivocate. "Absolutely not, I don't think so."

The online rollout of state healthcare exchange marketplace run by the federal government starting on Oct. 1 was without question a big mess. However, since glitches have been worked on, rendering the site operable for the "vast majority" of health care seekers, and as tens of thousands more seekers find affordable plans that are qualitatively better than their pre-existing policies, Brown may be on to something, as the surge of disappointment in the early weeks fades away and is replaced with insurance buyers who will pay less for more coverage.

Sens. Harken and Brown are co-sponsors of the The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, which according to Sen. Harkin's website, will "strengthen Social Security benefits, ensure the program is available for future generations, and help to address the retirement crisis in this country."

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