If you only watched national cable news, you’d probably think not much was accomplished over the past year, and that Democrats and Republicans were mostly at each other’s throats. But beyond the national noise, look across Ohio, and it’s clear – we were able to make progress for the people we serve, often by working together. From fighting for children’s health care, to securing investments in Ohio communities, to traveling the state for events like our manufacturing camps and Women’s Leadership Summit, 2019 was a year of accomplishments for our state.
One of the biggest victories came in December when, after months of effort, we secured in the new USMCA our Brown-Wyden provision that amounts to the strongest-ever labor enforcement in a U.S. trade deal. One of my proudest votes was against NAFTA, and I’ve spent every day since then working for a better trade policy that puts Ohio workers first. The initial draft of this agreement from President Trump was another corporate trade deal, which amounted to a bad deal for workers and a sellout to drug companies.
We went to work with Speaker Pelosi, my colleague Senator Wyden, and leaders in the union movement to improve the deal, and we secured the first improvement to enforcing labor standards in our trade agreements since we’ve been negotiating them. We know why companies close factories in Ohio and open them in Mexico – they can pay lower wages and take advantage of workers. American workers can’t compete, and we get a race to the bottom on wages. The only way to stop this is by raising labor standards in every country with which we trade. That’s what our Brown-Wyden provision does, and it’s included in the new USMCA deal.
And that wasn’t our only success for Ohio communities. We sent several bipartisan bills to President Trump’s desk to become law, including the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act, to provide Ohio communities with the flexibility they need to improve their drinking water and reduce pollution without spreading their resources thin, and our ACE Kids Act with Sen. Portman, to improve health care for children on Medicaid with complex medical conditions.
Senator Portman and I also worked together to secure full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and to make sure Ohio’s military installations have the resources they need to support our national defense and our local economies.
At the end of the year, Congress passed a bipartisan package that makes investments in Ohio priorities that we fought hard to get. Our office helped secure $3.8 billion in federal funding to fight addiction, and the new National Defense Authorization Act includes my Fentanyl Sanctions Act, to give us new tools to target foreign opioid traffickers in China, Mexico, and other countries.
We also secured new investment to fight Ohio’s too-high maternal mortality rate and fight those disparities that persist between black and white mothers. We reauthorized and increased investment in the Healthy Start program, to fight infant mortality. And we made progress in our fight to get the president to take action on behalf of Vietnam veterans living with chronic health conditions, by expanding the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
These successes will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of Ohioans. But we have more work to do. At the top of that list must be ensuring Ohio retirees can keep the pensions they earned. In December, we were able to pass our Bipartisan American Miners Act, to save the pensions and healthcare of thousands of Ohio miners and their families. Now we must find a bipartisan solution to the larger multiemployer pension crisis that threatens 60,000 Ohioans, as well as thousands of small businesses around the country.
We also must protect health coverage for millions of Ohioans by continuing to fight the president’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). President Trump supports a lawsuit that, if successful, would repeal the entire ACA, including ending protections for preexisting conditions and undoing Ohio’s Medicaid expansion. A new study last fall found that nearly two million Ohioans could lose their health insurance if the Trump administration is successful. This is unacceptable. Instead, we need to work together to make health care more affordable for Ohioans – particularly when it comes to prescription drug prices.
On all of these issues, one of the most important ways we can make progress is by listening to the people we serve. Over the past year, we hosted roundtables in every corner of the state, on topics ranging from challenges facing student veterans to women’s access to health care. And I’ll do the same in 2020, because the best ideas don’t come from Washington – they come out of conversations with Ohioans across our state.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic US Senator representing Ohio.