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Sen. Sherrod Brown, Fair Trade over Free Trade

Sherrod Brown is the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio since 1992. Steve Inskeep talks to the new senator as part of our series on what it means to be a Democrat. Brown says voters responded to Democratic promises to help a struggling middle class. An edited excerpt of the interview:

What issues are Ohio voters expecting Democrats to act on?

Ohioans, I think, in large numbers, have felt that the government has not been on their side in all of these issues: on pensions, on the cost of prescription drugs, on the health-care system generally, on jobs, on trade agreements. People feel these job-killing trade agreements have really squeezed the middle class and caused lots of people to lose their middle-class status.

You wrote a book titled Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. Is that a sentiment that will find supporters in the new Congress?

The overwhelming number of Democrats... think our trade policy has gone in the wrong direction. They think that our trade policy encourages companies to leave the country. They think our trade policy has caused more and more businesses to outsource. I am certain that we will see a very different Democratic Party, and a very different Republican Party, when it comes to trade.

A lot of Republicans voted for me, frankly, because of my position on trade. The voters in both parties understand our trade policy really has betrayed the middle class.

Will any new trade agreements make it through Congress?

There will be no major bilateral trade agreements that pass the House and Senate, unless there are solid environmental and labor standards [in the agreement].

There's simply no reason that this Congress and our government should protect the drug companies, but not protect workers, that they should protect Hollywood films, and not protect the environment. That's an overwhelming sentiment in this freshman class, in both parties, in both houses. And it's an overwhelming sentiment now in the majority in both houses overall.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed under the administration of former Democratic president Bill Clinton. Will "Clinton" Democrats slow your efforts to change U.S. policy?

The so-called Bill Clinton wing of the Democratic Party has evolved into the mainstream Democrats, which [is what] we are. There has been an evolution since China in the late '90s, there's been an evolution among almost all Democrats, that these trade agreements simply need to be constructed in a different way, for fair trade, not for free trade.

Is there common ground with Republicans on trade?

I think there's tremendous common ground on trade ... [with Larry Craig (R-ID)] ... with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the Senate, with Walter Jones (R-NC) in the House. We will find lots to work on. So I think we come down in the same place, in opposition to bad trade agreements and in support of good trade agreements.

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