- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio’s leading Democrat this week pushed a package of pro-worker policies, including a boost in the minimum wage, that he said are aimed at reframing the national conversation about what drives the economy.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown released his 77-page report, “Working Too Hard for Too Little,” at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs in Columbus on Friday. He argued that common thinking that strong businesses make for a strong economy is misleading.

“It’s not businesses who drive the economy, it’s workers,” Brown said. “We grow the economy from the middle class out.”

Armed with extensive research compiled by his office, Brown made his case for such changes as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour; improving workers’ bargaining rights; creating a national paid leave fund; requiring corporations to reimburse taxpayers if low-wage employees have to rely on federal assistance to make ends meet; strategies for helping workers boost retirement savings; and offering corporate tax breaks to companies that commit to staying in the U.S. and providing good wages and benefits.

“Workers are working harder and longer for less compensation,” the report contends. “Work has become less valuable, particularly for women and minorities who represent an increasing share of the workforce.”

Brown said that stagnant wages have affected the ability to earn a middle-class living while the erosion of benefits over the decades has made it more difficult for workers to retire with ease. His report found that from 2005 to 2016, the percentage of private industry workers with access to defined benefit retirement plans fell from 22 percent to 18 percent.

His proposal drew swift criticism from Republicans, whose majority control of Congress makes Brown’s proposals unlikely to gain much traction on Capitol Hill. Republican Josh Mandel, who’s announced a challenge to Brown in next year’s election, also attacked the plan, calling it a job killer.

Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for the GOP group America Rising Squared, said, “By pushing rejected ideas that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs and penalize entrepreneurs, Brown’s proposal is only meant to curry favor to his liberal, special interest donors.”

Yet, when it argues that “hard work must provide a path to the middle class for the U.S. economy to grow,” Brown’s report may serve as a rhetorical road map for fellow Democrats hoping to capitalize on voter disenchantment with Republican President Donald Trump in next year’s mid-term elections.

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