CLEVELAND, Ohio — Sen. Sherrod Brown wants the federal government to give a $3,500 discount to buyers of American-made cars and trucks, under legislation he introduced last week.
The price cut would be paid for by doubling the tax rate on foreign profits from some auto companies to 21 percent, the full U.S. corporate tax rate. The 21 percent corporate tax rate, and the lower rate on foreign corporate profits, both were part of the sweeping GOP congressional tax plan President Donald Trump signed last December.
On Tuesday, Brown pitched his bill as a way to unwind some of the economic forces that led General Motors in June to lay off 600 workers at a plant in Lordstown, near Youngstown. The layoff, which eliminated the plant’s second shift, went into effect the same day the company announced it would build a new assembly plant in Mexico to make the Chevy Blazer, an SUV.
“I contend that if this bill were law right now, I don’t think GM would be going to Mexico to make its Chevy Blazer and build a new plant,” Brown said. “I contend they’d re-tool the plant in Lordstown or elsewhere, and make the Chevy Blazer here.”
Brown, a Democrat, is being challenged in the November election by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth. Brown’s proposed legislation is targeted at an issue important to some of the blue-collar areas that voted for Trump in the 2016 election, and that Brown now is courting for support.
Brown appeared at a union hall in Cleveland on Tuesday to promote his legislation, which he dubbed the American Cars American Jobs Act. It would set aside $3 billion for the program. The tax doubling would apply only to companies that have shifted net jobs overseas since the Republican tax bill passed in December 2017.
In a statement, Renacci campaign spokeswoman Leslie Shedd called Brown’s legislation, which stands little chance of passing in the GOP-controlled Congress, a “campaign stunt.”
“It’s no surprise that liberal career politician Sherrod Brown is pretending he cares about Ohio’s auto workers in an election year – that’s what career politicians do,” Shedd said. “But for the last 25 years in Congress, Brown has consistently voted for job killing regulations, including supporting dramatic EPA overreach that directly hurts Ohio’s auto workers. Campaign stunts like this don’t actually help Ohioans.”
Brown’s proposed program would be voluntary for auto dealers, and the $3,500 discount would be applied through government vouchers.
Auto industry analysts say the Lordstown plant is in danger of closing, having lost two of its three shifts, totaling 3,000 jobs, since the beginning of last year. The plant manufactures the compact Chevy Cruze, demand for which is lagging compared to GM’s trucks and SUVs. Potentially complicating GM’s decision whether to close the plant is the possibility that Trump may retaliate by following through on his campaign pledge to impose a 25 percent tariff on autos imported from Canada and Mexico.
Brown on Tuesday was halting when asked what role any such tariffs may play in pressuring GM to keep the plant open.
“I support the president’s idea on these tariffs… I think we need to do them in a way that works. It’s too early to tell, because they [the Trump administration] kind of keep changing on where they’re going,” Brown said.
Among those who joined Brown on Tuesday were Dan Boone, the president of the United Steelworkers union chapter that represents workers at the ArcelorMittal plant in Cleveland, Mark Payne, the president of the United Auto Workers chapter that represents workers at the Brook Park Ford engine plant and Brook Park Mayor Mike Gammella, a former UAW local chapter president.
In an interview, Boone said many of the 1,400 steelworkers his union represents supported Trump because of his rhetoric on trade. Payne compared Trump to a persuasive salesman who co-opted an approach used by Brown and other Democrats, but who hasn’t necessarily followed through.
“I would say something like 40 percent of our members supported President Trump,”Boone said. “But I would say they voted for him based on what he said.”