I'm calling their bluff

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The excuses have started. Once again, the Republicans blocked a vote on our student loans bill – and now that they are about to head home to face voters, they are pouring out the excuses.

Excuse #1:  Some Republicans say that the benefit of letting people refinance their student loans is too small. Too small? Tell that to young people with 8%, 10%, even 12% interest rates (and higher on some of the private loans). They could save hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars on their excessive student loan payments each year.

But if the Republicans really think the benefit of the bill is too small, I'll call their bluff. I'm all for finding ways to give our students an even bigger break.

Excuse #2:  Some Republicans say that the $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt just isn't a big deal – that we should be focused on the rising costs of college instead. Yes, the rising cost of college is a terrible problem – and we need to stop it – but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything for the millions of people who already went to school and are being crushed by debt.

But if the Republicans really want to do more, I'll call their bluff. Let's work together to do even more to help our students. I'm ready.

Excuse #3:  Some Republicans don't like that the bill is paid for by closing the tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires and making them pay their fair share.

But if the Republicans' only problem with the bill is how it's paid for, I'll call their bluff. If they have ideas on other ways to pay for it, we're eager to listen.

Excuse #4:  Some Republicans – including Mitch McConnell – went so far as to say that Democrats don't really want this bill to pass. Really? That's just plain ridiculous. Only in Washington can you vote against something, and then when it doesn't pass, blame the people who voted for it.

Excuses. Excuses. But they don't fool anyone. They don't fool each of you who signed our petitions, made phone calls, posted on Facebook and tweeted asking for a vote.

This isn't complicated. It's a choice – a choice that raises a fundamental question about who the United States Senate works for. Does it work for those who can hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists to protect tax loopholes for billionaires and profits for the big banks? Or does it work for those who work hard, play by the rules, and are trying to build a future for themselves and their families?

This fight isn't over. Millions of Americans are getting crushed in student loan debt, while the rich and powerful hang on tight to their tax loopholes. When the choice is between billionaires and students, I know which side I'm on, and I'm going to keep hitting back.

The tax code is rigged

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Huge corporations hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists to create, expand, and protect every last corporate loophole.

That's how we end up with a tax code that makes teachers and bus drivers and small business owners pay, but that allows some huge American corporations to make billions of dollars and not pay a single dime in taxes.

Simply put, the tax code is rigged.

Apparently, even this rigged game doesn't go far enough for some corporations. Those companies are taking advantage of a new move: a loophole that allows them to maintain all their operations in America, but claim foreign citizenship so they can cut their US taxes even further.

That means American companies can hire a bunch of lawyers and Wall Street bankers, fill out some paperwork, and dodge their US taxes.

Tax lawyers call this process a "corporate inversion." But don't let that bland name fool you – these companies are renouncing their American citizenship, turning their backs on this country, simply to boost their profits.

If a person did that, we'd call them a freeloader and insist that they pay their fair share. And that's exactly what our tax laws do for people who renounce their American citizenship. But when corporations do it, they don't suffer any consequences at all.

Forget whether corporations are people – in this corner of the tax code, we're treating corporations better than people.  

That's not right. That's why I've teamed up with Senator Levin and more than a dozen of our Democratic colleagues to introduce the Stop Corporate Inversions Act. The bill is simple: it allows American corporations to renounce their citizenship only if they truly give up control of their company to a foreign corporation and truly move their operations overseas.

Sign up now to show your support for the Stop Corporate Inversions Act. Let's make giant corporations pay their fair share.

In Massachusetts and across the country, we invest in public education to produce millions of skilled workers. We invest in infrastructure, in our roads and bridges and ports, making it easier for our companies to move products to market. We invest in scientific and medical research, giving our companies access to the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies.

America is a great place to do business because of the investments we have made together. We invest together to make America a place where any kid will have a chance to come up with an idea and turn it into the next great American company.

The companies that are pursuing these corporate inversions know all of this. That's why they are not actually leaving America behind. They just don't want to pay for it.

Sign up now to show your support for the Stop Corporate Inversions Act to close the loopholes for giant corporations.

Our achievements aren't magic. They didn't simply happen on their own or through dumb luck. America works – our government works – our democracy works – because we all pitch in and do our part to build the things that none of us can build alone. The things that give everyone a chance to succeed.

We've had enough of rich corporations taking whatever they want and expecting everyone else to pick up the pieces. The time for freeloading is over.

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It worked

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Not long ago, I was at a McDonald's when a man came over, held out his hand and said he had been having trouble with a fee his bank had charged. It wasn't huge, but he said the bank should not have charged him. He called and argued, talked with customer relations, asked to speak to a manager -- and he got a big, fat zero.

Then he said he remembered about the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and told the bank he would file a complaint. They put him on hold and then came back and said they would reverse the fee. The agency worked.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Dodd-Frank, the law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- and the third anniversary of the date the CFPB became an independent agency. And in those three years, the agency has done a lot to help level the playing field:

  • The CFPB has forced big financial companies to return more than $4 billion dollars to consumers they cheated.
  • The CFPB has put in place rules to protect consumers from a whole host of dangerous financial products and to make sure that companies can't issue the kinds of deceptive mortgages that contributed to millions of foreclosures.
  • The CFPB has helped tens of thousands of consumers resolve complaints against financial institutions that cheated them. 

Sure, there is a lot of financial reform work left undone. The big banks today are dramatically bigger than they were in 2008 and they are taking on new risks, and I think that means we need a 21st Century Glass-Steagall law to break them up. But I celebrate the progress we've had so far: When big banks have to listen to their customers a little more, the playing field starts to level out just a little bit more.    

The big banks spent more than a million dollars a day lobbying against financial reforms, and top lobbyists said that killing off the consumer agency was their number one priority.  Even now, the Republicans continue the attack, introducing bills that would take the legs out from under the agency.

We didn't have the lobbying muscle or the money that the big banks had. But we got that agency because we fought for it. We joined forces online and through groups, and we made our voices heard. And now, after three years, it's starting to work.

I smiled at the guy who said he got his money back. I smiled because I love to hear how the CFPB works. But mostly I smiled because it reminded me of what we can do when we fight.  

Happy anniversary!

Our new bill to fight Hobby Lobby

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I was stunned by last week's Hobby Lobby ruling.

Stunned that we live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States of America would even consider putting the interests of big corporations before the fundamental rights of American women.

Stunned that the Court would establish precedent for one enormous slippery slope on letting employers deny individuals health coverage for any medical treatment.

Today, my Democratic colleagues and I are fighting to do what the Supreme Court failed to do: to protect the basic rights of American women and families.

Led by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall, we've just introduced a new bill – the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers.

If we're going to respond to Hobby Lobby, it's got to be through a legislative fix. And if the Republicans won't fight for the women they represent, then we're going to take that fight to them. Let them explain why they think employers should decide what health care a woman can get covered by her insurance .

Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act.

I cannot believe that in 2014 I have to send you an email about protecting access to birth control. We've got a lot of other big problems in our country to tackle right now.  

Millions of people still haven't recovered from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. More and more young people are drowning in student debt. Too many workers are struggling to stay out of poverty on a minimum wage, and millions of others are struggling to save for retirement. Seniors keep getting told they're going to have to get by on less.

But the Republican Party has made it clear: They want to spend their time working to deny women access to birth control and punch as many holes in the Affordable Care Act as they can.

Just look at the facts:

  • In 2012, Republicans tried to pass the Blunt Amendment – legislation that would allow employers and insurance companies to deny women's health care services – even birth control – based on any vague moral objection.
  • When the Blunt Amendment failed, the Republicans resorted to hostage-taking. Remember last year's government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That all started with a GOP threat to get Democrats to change the law so employers could deny coverage for birth control.

When Democrats wouldn't cave and the government shutdown backfired, the Republicans turned to their conservative friends on the United States Supreme Court – five justices who are among the top ten most pro-corporate justices to serve in the last half-century – to do what Congress and the American people would not: give corporations rights to determine women's access to health care coverage.

We cannot stand by while the radical right of our country conducts a full-scale assault on women's rights and basic health care.

Help us fight back against the Hobby Lobby ruling. Sign up now to show your support for the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act.

This is 2014, not 1914 – and we've had enough.

No one said it would be easy

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We lost the vote.  

This morning, the Senate held its first vote on the Bank on Students Act to let people refinance their student loans. We got a majority -- 58 senators were ready to go our way -- but the Republicans filibustered the bill and we didn't even get to debate it.

I guess this is when some people would give up. Not us. Not a chance.

Here's how I see it:

When we first started talking about student loans last summer, we stood strong for a better deal on new student loans. Today, we got every Democrat, every Independent, and even three Republicans to support a bill that would permit refinancing for 40 million people who are shouldering $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.  

Considering the speed that the Senate normally works, that's a lot of movement in a short time.

And it's not only what we did, it's how we did it. We put the plan to pay for it right on the table. No gimmicks or smoke-and-mirrors. We said that when the government reduces its profits on student loans, the money should be made up by stitching up tax loopholes so that millionaires and billionaires pay at least as much in taxes as middle class families.  

We made the choice clear: billionaires or students. People who have already made it big or people who are still trying to get a fair shot.

We made the choice clear -- and then we fought for it. We stood up and spoke out -- individually and through our terrific organizations. We gathered more than 750,000 signatures on petitions. We made our voices heard -- and that's how we got well over 50 votes.

At this point, most Republicans want us to quiet down and fade away. They don't want us to point out that this morning, most Republicans said it was more important to protect the tax loopholes for billionaires than to cut the rates on student loans.

I think it is time to come back louder than ever. I think it is time to show up at campaign events and town halls and ask every single Republican who voted against this bill why protecting billionaires is more important than giving our kids a chance to pay off their loans. I think we need to ask, and ask again, and ask again.

So there it is: Show up at an event and ask a question. Encourage your friends to show up and ask questions. Send an email. Make a call. And keep circulating the petitions. This isn't over.

In Washington, I hear people say that "Elections have consequences." I'd like to shift that just a little bit and say "Senate votes have consequences, too."  

When Republicans vote to force students to keep paying high interest rates on students loans in order to plug the budget holes from tax breaks for billionaires, then it's time to hold those Republicans accountable.  

I don't plan to let this issue die. I plan to fight back. And I hope people all across this country will do exactly the same. 

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I can't get there tomorrow, but I can come on Thursday

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One Tuesday night back in 1979, I rushed from my new teaching job at the University of Houston to pick my son Alex up from daycare. He was sitting on a small cot in the crowded daycare, his diaper soggy. He clung to me and cried when I tried to change him, and by the time I got him in the car I was covered in tears, pee and baby snot.

When we got home, I gave Alex a bath, crumbled hamburger in a skillet, and started a load of laundry. By the time I got Alex and his big sister Amelia in bed, I was so tired my bones hurt.

My 78-year-old Aunt Bee called to see how I was doing. I started out ok, but finally I broke down and started to cry. I was failing my kids and I loved teaching, but I was doing my class preparations after midnight. I was always behind. I told Aunt Bee I was going to quit my job.

Aunt Bee matter-of-factly told me, "I can't get there tomorrow, but I can come on Thursday." She arrived with seven suitcases and a Pekingese named Buddy, and she stayed for 16 years.

The reason I'm here today as a United States Senator is because my Aunt Bee rescued me on that Thursday in 1979. I know how lucky I was, because so many working moms don't have a family member who can rush in and save the day.

In fact, the deck has been stacked against working moms for years. And even though women are the main breadwinners, or joint breadwinners, in two-thirds of the families across the country, it's only getting worse.

When I was a law professor, I spent years studying why middle class families were going broke. In my academic research on bankruptcy, I uncovered some grim facts:

  • In one year, more women will file for bankruptcy than graduate from college.
  • Having a child is the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.
  • Single moms are more likely than any other group to file for bankruptcy – more likely than the elderly, more likely than divorced men, and more likely than people living in poor neighborhoods.
  • Single moms who had been to college are actually 60% more likely to end up bankrupt than their less educated sisters.

Women get hit hard. They still earn, on average, only 77 cents to the dollar that her male colleague earns. Bloomberg analyzed census data to find that women are paid less in 264/265 major occupations – in 99.6% of jobs, women get paid less than men. Yet Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act – a law that would make sure women don't get fired just for asking what the guy down the hall makes.

Minimum wage workers haven't gotten a raise in seven years, and today nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Mothers of very young children disproportionately work low-wage jobs in every state in the country. A minimum wage job no longer keeps a mother and baby above the poverty line, yet Republicans continue to block legislation to raise the minimum wage.  

And seniors? Because women make less than men throughout their lifetimes, they receive, on average, more than $4,000 less a year than men in Social Security benefits, yet women rely most heavily on those checks. At a time when Social Security is the only safety net keeping 14 million people out of poverty, Republicans continue to try to cut Social Security for women.

I know how lucky I was to have a woman in my life who was there when I needed her. She's gone now, but the best way I know to honor her memory is to help another woman – or maybe join with a lot of people and help millions of women.  

It's time. It's long past time. Minimum wage. Equal pay. Social Security. Doing something tangible in honor of the women who helped us.

Happy Mother's Day!

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Bank on Students

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Last year, we fought to lower the interest rates on student loans – and nearly all the Republicans in Washington agreed with us that rates were far too high.

So Congress lowered the rates for new borrowers this year – not as much as we would have liked, but some. But Congress did nothing for the millions of people stuck with older high interest rate loans.

Today, I'm introducing the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, and the idea is so popular that it already has 23 co-sponsors. The bill lets qualified borrowers refinance their existing student loan debt to the same lower prices that Congress agreed upon for new students this year.

Sign up now to show your support for the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.

Student loan debt is exploding. Outstanding student loans now total more than $1.2 trillion – and each year, students are taking on more and more and more. In 2012, an astonishing 71% of college seniors owed student loans, and, from 2004 to 2012, the average student loan balance increased by 70%.

Now, millions of young people are struggling to keep up with their student loan payments. Everywhere I go, I meet young people who worked hard, played by the rules, and got an education – only to be crushed with student loan debt.

The economic impact is real. Federal watchdog agencies like the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are already sounding the alarm. Every day, this exploding debt stops more and more young people from moving out of their parents' homes, from saving for a down payment, buying homes, buying cars, starting small businesses, saving for retirement, or making purchases that grow our economy.

Forty million Americans have outstanding student loans. The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act will save millions of these young people hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year, putting real money back into their pockets. The sooner we pass refinancing legislation, the sooner they'll get a little bit of relief.   

Tell Congress to give a much-needed break to young people struggling to build a future. Join us in support of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.

Benghazi

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Earlier this week, Speaker John Boehner announced the formation of a new select committee to investigate Benghazi led by Rep. Trey Gowdy.

All three of my brothers served in the military, and I know firsthand how much Americans serving abroad -- and their families -- sacrifice. What happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 was a tragedy. Four Americans died putting themselves in harm's way in service to peace, diplomacy, and their country. I look at what happened in Benghazi with sadness, with seriousness, and as yet another call to honor the men and women who keep us safe.

So let me be blunt: that kind of seriousness is sorely missing from the no holds-barred political theater of the House Republicans.  

I know a little bit about the way Trey Gowdy pursues oversight. I was on the other end of it when I was setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and I was called to testify before the House. As the Huffington Post reported at the time, Gowdy's interrogation of me "seemed to lack the basic facts" about the agency he was attempting to oversee. I'd like you to read their reporting on one of these exchanges just so you know what this Benghazi "investigation" is likely to look like:

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) grilled Warren on whether the bureau would make public the complaints it gets. She answered that the complaint issue was a work in progress, but that at the very least, there was progress in creating a system for large credit card companies.

"Are any of the complaints public?" Gowdy demanded.

"Congressman, we don't have any complaints yet," Warren said of the still-nascent agency. "What we're trying to do is build the system."

Gowdy also seemed to think that Warren had written the Dodd-Frank law, and he was determined to know what Warren meant by defining "abusive" practices as something that "materially interferes" with the ability of a consumer to understand a term or a condition.

"That suggests to me that some interferences are immaterial. Is that what you meant by that?" he asked a momentarily perplexed-looking Warren.

"Congressman, I believe the language you are quoting is out of the Dodd-Frank act," she said. "This is the language that Congress has adopted."

Still, Gowdy insisted on her answer, although the definitions and regulations required by the law are still being written.

As a Senator, I take oversight seriously because it is powerfully important. But Trey Gowdy gives oversight a bad name. The House GOP is on a waste-of-time-and-resources witch hunt and fundraising sideshow, shamefully grasping for any straw to make President Obama, former Secretary Clinton, or Secretary Kerry look bad. This stunt does a disservice to those who serve our country abroad, and it distracts us from issues we should be taking up on behalf of the American people.

With millions of people still out of work and millions more working full time yet still living below the poverty line, with students drowning in debt, with roads and bridges crumbling, is this really what the House Republicans are choosing to spend their time on? Even for guys who have so few solutions to offer that they have voted 54 times to repeal Obamacare, this is a new low.  

House Republicans are doing whatever they can to distract the American people from what's really going on in Washington – a rigged system that works great for those who have armies of lobbyists and lawyers but that leaves everyone else behind. A system in which Republicans protect tax breaks for billionaires while they block increases in the minimum wage for millions of people who work full time and live in poverty. A system in which Republicans give away billions of dollars in subsidies to Big Oil while making billions in profits off of our kids' student loans.

It's wrong, and it's shameful.

Elizabeth Warren takes on Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz

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Elizabeth went to Minnesota last weekend to support Senator Al Franken at the 2014 Humphrey-Mondale Dinner.

It was her first time speaking at one of those big Democratic Party events – and Elizabeth didn't waste any time taking on Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, the Tea Party and the national GOP.

The event wasn't televised, but we just got the video clip of Elizabeth's speech. Trust me, you're going to want to see this for yourself:

When you're done watching Elizabeth shred the Republicans' vision for America, don't forget to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone should see this clip.

We don't run this country for corporations

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Hobby Lobby doesn't want to cover its employees' birth control on company insurance plans. In fact, they're so outraged about women having access to birth control that they've taken the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

I cannot believe that we live in a world where we would even consider letting some big corporation deny the women who work for it access to the basic medical tests, treatments or prescriptions that they need based on vague moral objections.

But here's the scary thing: With the judges we've got on the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby might actually win.

The current Supreme Court has headed in a very scary direction.

Recently, three well-respected legal scholars examined almost 20,000 Supreme Court cases from the last 65 years. They found that the five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top 10 most pro-corporate justices in more than half a century.

And Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts? They were number one and number two.

Take a look at the win rate of the national Chamber of Commerce cases before the Supreme Court. According to the Constitutional Accountability Center, the Chamber was winning 43% of the cases in participated in during the later years of the Burger Court, but that shifted to a 56% win-rate under the Rehnquist Court, and then a 70% win-rate with the Roberts Court.

Follow these pro-corporate trends to their logical conclusion, and pretty soon you'll have a Supreme Court that is a wholly owned subsidiary of big business.

Birth control is at risk in today's case, but we also need to worry about a lot more.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court unleashed a wave of corporate spending to game the political system and drown the voices of middle class families.

And right now, the Supreme Court is considering McCutcheon v. FEC, a case that could mean the end of campaign contribution limits – allowing the big guys to buy even more influence in Washington.

Republicans may prefer a rigged court that gives their corporate friends and their armies of lawyers and lobbyists every advantage. But that's not the job of judges. Judges don't sit on the bench to hand out favors to their political friends.

On days like today, it matters who is sitting on the Supreme Court. It matters that we have a President who appoints fair and impartial judges to our courts, and it matters that we have a Senate who approves them.

We're in this fight because we believe that we don't run this country for corporations – we run it for people.

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