Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to solve a real, honest-to-God problem.
Our health care system was broken. 48 million people in this country had no health insurance. Women couldn't get access to cancer screenings. People with diabetes were denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. People with cancer hit the caps on their health insurance spending. And health spending in this country was growing far too fast.
So we worked hard, we compromised, and we came up with a solution. A solution that will substantially improve the lives of millions of Americans – because that's the way a democracy works.
It's time to end the debate about whether the Affordable Care Act should exist and whether it should be funded.
Congress voted for this law. President Obama signed this law. The Supreme Court upheld this law. The President ran for reelection on this law. His opponent said he would repeal it – and his opponent lost by five million votes.
Right now, Republicans are taking the government and the economy hostage, threatening serious damage to both unless the President agrees to gut the Affordable Care Act. For days, they even tried to change the law so that employers can deny women access to birth control coverage.
I am the mother of a daughter and the grandmother of granddaughters. I will never vote to let a group of backward-looking ideologues cut women's access to birth control. We have lived in that world, and we are not going back. Not ever.
I see things like this and I wonder what alternate reality some of my colleagues are living in.
So let me be very clear about what is happening in the real world: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Millions of people are counting on it – people who need health care coverage, people who need insurance policies that don't disappear just when they are sickest.
The law is here to stay, and it will stay.
Now the government is shut down. We haven't fixed the sequester because of all the obstruction. We haven't finished a budget because of all the obstruction. We haven't even passed a single appropriations bill because of all the obstruction.
The least we can do – the bare minimum we can do – would be to pass a "continuing resolution" to open the doors back up and turn the lights back on. We could ensure that over a million federal workers aren't staying home for no reason. We could end the government shutdown.
But the Republicans have refused to do even that. They have continued to shutter the government unless the President agreed to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.
The threats may continue, but they are not working and they never will. In a democracy, hostage tactics are the last resort for those who can't win their fights through elections, can't win their fights in Congress, can't win their fights for the Presidency, and can't win their fights in Courts.
For this right-wing minority, hostage-taking is all they have left – a last gasp of those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.
The time has come for those legislators who cannot cope with the reality of our democracy to get out of the way – so that those of us in BOTH parties can get back to working on solving the real problems faced by the American people.
We have real work to do.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to solve a real, honest-to-God problem.
We all remember the darkest days of the financial crisis five years ago.
Credit dried up. The stock market cratered. Millions of people lost their jobs. Billions of dollars in retirement savings disappeared.
There were legitimate fears that the dominos of our financial system would never stop falling, and we were heading into another Great Depression.
On many of these fronts, we've made real progress. The Dodd-Frank Act was the strongest financial reform law in three generations. If I had been in the Senate three years ago, I would have voted for it proudly.
Dodd-Frank put in place the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has made serious strides toward leveling the playing field for families and increasing transparency in the marketplace. Thanks to the CFPB, I don't think there will ever again be so many lousy mortgages to threaten our families and our economy.
But no law is perfect -- and our work isn't done.
Most importantly, where are we now on the "Too Big to Fail" problem?" Where are we on making sure the giant financial institutions on Wall Street can't bring down the whole economy with a wild gamble?
After the 2008 crisis, we widely recognized that Too Big to Fail had distorted the marketplace. The largest financial institutions have lower borrowing costs and competitive advantages because of their free, unwritten, government-guaranteed insurance policy.
There was a lot of talk, but look what happened: The four biggest banks are 30% larger today than they were five years ago. Too Big to Fail status is giving the 10 biggest US banks an annual taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion.
So what are we doing about it? More delays. Many say Congress should wait to act further because the agencies still have to issue many of the rules required by Dodd-Frank.
It's true many rules are not yet written, but that's because the agencies have missed more than 60% of Dodd-Frank's deadlines.
When Congress sets deadlines and regulators miss most of them, it's time for Congress to step in. Congress is responsible for oversight -- and that's what oversight means.
For that reason, I partnered with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King to offer up one potential way to address the Too Big to Fail problem: the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. It's time to separate boring commercial banking from risky investment banking once again.
There are many other approaches for ending Too Big to Fail, and there is no single answer for preventing future crisis.
But we should not accept a financial system that allows the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while ordinary Americans continue to struggle.
We should not accept a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists for the big banks that it takes years to deliver rules that are too often watered-down and ineffective.
We should never forget the consequences of letting financial behemoths hold our economy hostage. We managed to avoid that grim fate, but our economy still suffered a staggering body-blow.
There were many powerful interests that that have fought against financial reform, and they will fight future reform efforts too.
But David beat Goliath with the passage of Dodd-Frank. David beat Goliath when we fought for and established a strong consumer agency.
I am confident David can also beat Goliath on Too Big to Fail. Five years after the financial crisis, we just have to pick up the slingshot again.
There have been more than 100 shootings in Boston since the Marathon in April.
Think about that. If 100 people went to Massachusetts General Hospital with a mysterious virus in four months, we would treat it as an epidemic. There would be headlines, alarms, and calls for action.
This week, I stood with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Senator Ed Markey, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns at Faneuil Hall to demand stronger national gun laws. We're not going to our call for action.
Some people say that gun laws should be left to the states, but state laws just aren't enough.
We have some of the country's toughest gun control laws in Massachusetts, but Mayor Menino has pointed out that an astonishing 65% of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Boston come from out of state. Unlike Massachusetts, nearby states like New Hampshire and Maine don't require a permit or license to buy a gun, so people can buy guns there and drive back to Massachusetts with the trunk loaded up.
Nationwide, only 60% of gun sales are subject to a federal background check because of the gun show loophole and other gaps in oversight. Background checks are a simple and effective step that would help keep guns out of the wrong hands, and we need to close the gaps.
I know a minority of Senators blocked this bipartisan bill earlier this year, but I'm not going to stop fighting. Neither is President Obama, who just yesterday announced an executive order to close more of the loopholes.
But too many loopholes remain. Our children are at risk. Until we have made our schools and our streets safer – here in Massachusetts and across the country – we're going to keep talking about this issue.
When I first started thinking about running for the United States Senate, I talked with people in living rooms and backyards all across Massachusetts.
I wanted to hear what people thought about me running, and more importantly, about their concerns, frustrations, and hopes for the future.
And I wanted to have a conversation about what I saw as two fundamentally different visions for America. Are we a country that says, "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own"? Or are we a better people than that?
At one of my first stops at a home in Andover, Massachusetts, someone asked me a question about building a future. I responded by saying "nobody got rich on his own." Somebody else recorded my answer and stuck it up on YouTube a few weeks later. Today, that little video has been seen more than a million times! I'm still amazed by that.
This month is the two-year anniversary of when I started traveling around the Commonwealth, and in so many ways, it has been a long two years for our country. And it's been a long two years for me too of campaigning and serving in the Senate.
But I still feel passionately about what I said back then, and I feel even more passionately about it as I see what's happening in Washington. Watch the video again, share it on Facebook, and remind people what we're still fighting for:
Two years later, I still believe down to my toes that we are a people that do better when we invest in our future, when we invest in education and infrastructure so that everyone can get ahead.
I've been working hard the past eight months in Washington, but I don't need to tell you that there's still so much work to do.
Big oil companies -- some of the most profitable companies on the planet -- are still guzzling down billions of dollars in subsidies, while Head Start and Meals on Wheels funding are cut in sequestration. Millionaires and billionaires still don't pay their fair share in taxes, but student loans continue to increase and the policy of the federal government is now to profit off our young people getting a higher education.
In other words, the game is still rigged to make the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful. And that means we've got more work to do to help make sure the next kid can get ahead and the kid after that and the kid after that.
As I have traveled back and forth across Massachusetts over the past two years, many people have told me about the challenges they face and their hopes for the future. And every day that I go to the United States Senate I carry those hopes, along with a determination to give families a fighting chance.
It's been two years, but one other thing is still true: I can't do it alone. We're in this together.
We won't win every fight -- at least, not the first time out.
This week, the Senate passed a student loans bill that asks tomorrow's students to pay drastically higher interest rates to finance lower rates today.
The vote may be over, but our fight to make college more affordable -- and the fight for a better deal for our students -- is just getting started.
In May, I introduced the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act to give students the same low interest rates that the big banks get. If those 0.75% rate is good enough for the big banks, it's good enough for our kids who are trying to get an education. And as long as the government continues to make hundreds of billions in profits off our students, I'll keep fighting.
In the long term, we need to do three things:
- First, we must eliminate government profits from student loan programs -- period.
- Second, we must refinance existing student debt to reduce the profits that are crushing our young people and dragging down our economy.
- And third, we must reduce college costs so that American families can send their kids to school without mortgaging their futures and burying themselves in debt.
I'm in this fight for the long haul, and I'll keep working to attack these problems head-on and find solutions that will provide a real shot at an education for all of our students.
Thank you for being a part of this -- for the long haul.
I’ve spent years fighting back against credit card companies that put out zero-interest teaser rate cards, planning to jack up the price later and make all their profits in the fine print.
I also fought back against teaser rate mortgages that promised low payments in the first few years, but then shot up to rates that pushed millions of families into foreclosure.
So it’s shocking to me that the United States Senate would offer its own teaser rate for our student loan system -- a system that is scheduled to make more than $184 billion in profits over the next ten years. That's not the business the United States government should be in.
We had a majority in the Senate to keep student interest rates low, but because of Republican filibusters, the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans jumped from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1st. Instead of restoring that 3.4% rate, a new so-called "compromise" plan on the table raises the interest rate on those loans this year to 3.86% for undergraduate students, and 5.41% for graduate students in 2013.
And then it gets worse. The plan is set up to collect higher interest rates in future years. After just 24 months, the rate jumps above 6.8% for graduate students. Within a few years, rates for all loans will be higher than if Congress does nothing -- and some could climb as high as 10.5%. Even worse, with the federal government already making billions in profits off these programs, the "compromise" plan is set up to actually increase those profits by hundreds of millions of dollars more.
I can't support a proposal that squeezes even more profits out of our kids, while millionaires and billionaires still don't pay their fair share. This is a bad deal.
Senator Jack Reed has offered an amendment that is a true compromise: let rates move with the market, but set a cap on student loan interest rates at their current rates. I am proud to cosponsor that amendment. It's the only way to ensure that students don't end up paying more than they would if Congress does nothing.
In the end, this is a simple math problem.
If Republicans insist that we continue to make the same $184 billion in profit off of the student loan program, that just means that students in future years will have to pay higher rates to make up the difference.
I don't believe in pitting our kids against each other. In fact, I think this whole system stinks.
We should not go along with any plan that demands that our students continue to produce huge profits for our government. Making billions and billions in profits off the backs of students is obscene.
Senator Jack Reed's amendment is the only plan on the table right now that guarantees student loan interest rates won't skyrocket above their current levels. We need to pass this amendment for our kids and grandkids.
I appreciate the hard work that my colleagues have done to try to defeat the Republican filibuster so that we can keep student loan rates low.
But our students are drowning under a trillion dollars in student loan debt. We need to start now with one basic principle: cut government profits on student loans. I can't support a deal that actually increases those profits.
I just got back from the White House, where I watched President Obama officially announce Rich Cordray's confirmation as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Yesterday, the Senate came together to end the filibuster and finally give Rich Cordray the up-or-down vote that he deserved. And it's thanks to you: You kept speaking out, kept pushing, kept fighting to demand a vote.
This is a historic day for working families. We finally confirmed a strong, fair and effective Director at the consumer agency -- someone who will protect people from the tricks and traps in credit cards, mortgages, student loans and other financial services, and hold the big banks accountable.
Sometimes in Washington, Goliath loses to David. That's what happened this time.
Yesterday was an important day for another reason: my friend Ed Markey was sworn in as a United States Senator. Thanks to your support, we have one more voice fighting to level the playing field for working families.
It's been an amazing week!
When I learned last winter that I would have a seat on the Senate Banking Committee, I was very happy because I knew it would give me the opportunity to ask tough questions and push for some accountability from Wall Street and its regulators. In the last six months, that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do.
Again and again, I’ve been making a simple point to anyone who will listen: we need to learn from the financial crisis of 2008 and, moving forward, to prevent the kinds of high-risk activities that made a few people rich but nearly destroyed our economy.
Now it’s time to launch the next push. I joined forces with Senators John McCain, Angus King, and Maria Cantwell to introduce the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013 to reinstate and modernize core banking protections.
Banking should be boring. Savings accounts, checking accounts -- the things that you and I rely on every day -- should be safe from the sort of high-risk activities that broke our economy.
The way our system works, the FDIC insures our traditional banks to keep your money safe. That way when you want to withdraw money from your checking account, you know the money will be there. That’s what keeps our banking system safe and dependable.
But the government should NOT be insuring hedge funds, swaps dealing, and other risky investment banking services. When the same institutions that take huge risks are also the ones that control your savings account, the entire banking system is riskier.
Coming out of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Glass Steagall Act to separate risky investment banking from ordinary commercial banking. And for half a century, the banking system was stable and our middle class grew stronger. As our economy grew, the memory of the regular financial crises we experienced before Glass-Steagall faded away.
But in the 1980s, the federal regulators started reinterpreting the laws to break down the divide between regular banking and Wall Street risk-taking, and in 1999, Congress repealed Glass Steagall altogether. Wall Street had spent 66 years and millions of dollars lobbying for repeal, and, eventually, the big banks won.
Our new 21st Century Glass Steagall Act once again separates traditional banks from riskier financial services. And since banking has become much more complicated since the first bill was written in 1933, we’ve updated the law to include new activities and leave no room for regulatory interpretations that water down the rules.
The bill will give a five year transition period for financial institutions to split their business practices into distinct entities -- shrinking their size, taking an important step toward ending “Too Big to Fail” once and for all, and minimizing the risk of future bailouts.
When people like you and me work together, we can stand up to even the most powerful interests. That’s how we got the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010. That’s how we won our election in 2012. And that’s how we’ll pass the 21st Century Glass Steagall Act.
The government will make $51 billion in profit off of federal student loans this year.
That's five times the money Google made in profit in 2012. In fact, it's more than any Fortune 500 company made last year.
It's obscene. Our government should help students who are trying to get an education, not figure out ways to squeeze more money out of them.
This week, the Senate will be voting one more time on a bill to freeze the interest rate on new Stafford student loans at 3.4% while Congress works out a long-term student debt solution. A majority of senators support the bill, but so far, the Senate Republicans have blocked an up-or-down vote.
I have been speaking out on this issue, and I'm writing today to ask you to join me. Tell the Senate to stop playing politics with our kids' futures and to give the student loan bill an up-or-down vote.
Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt – more than all the credit card debt in the entire country.
But they didn't go on a shopping spree at the mall -- they did exactly what we told them to do. They worked hard, they played by the rules, and they got an education.
Too many of those kids must delay buying a home because they can't save for a down payment. They delay starting a small business because they can't get a loan. They delay putting anything away for their retirement because their exploding student loan debt is making it impossible for them to save. They delay their start on life -- and all the while, the government rakes in more and more profits.
I was ashamed when the interest rate on student loans doubled last week. Not just as a United States Senator, but as a teacher, a mother, and a grandmother. We should do better for our students.
Students don't have an army of lobbyists demanding a better deal. They don't have millions of dollars for a splashy public relations campaign to shame our elected officials and to get the media's attention.
It's going to take all of us working together -- people all across the country saying, "We can't do this to our kids." And that starts with you, right now.
Tell the Senate: Give the student loan bill an up-or-down vote.
Thank you, and keep fighting!
We won't make the information public because if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.
That's been the government's argument for not releasing the basic trade negotiation documents. Let me explain:
Trade agreements are important. They affect everything -- our imports and exports, wages, jobs, the environment, financial services, and even the Internet.
But if people can't follow the basic outline of the negotiations, then they can't have any real input into the process.
Right now the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with eleven countries, including Japan, Mexico, Canada, Singapore and Vietnam. For months, the Trade Representative has refused any public access to the Trans-Pacific Partnership's composite bracketed text – the language proposals being negotiated on by the United States and other countries.
I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too. So I asked President Obama's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, three questions:
1. Would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
2. If not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision? Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
3. Would he provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office's outside advisors? Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information -- industry, labor, environmental groups and other NGO representatives. But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see the same things, and I think that's a real problem.
Mr. Froman's response was clear: No, no, no. He will not commit to make this information available so the public can track what is going on. For that reason, I voted against Michael Froman's nomination as U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday.
I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative's policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant.
In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.
We need a new direction from the Trade Representative -- a direction that prioritizes transparency and public debate. The American people have the right to know more about the negotiations that will have dramatic impact on the future of the American economy.
Michael Froman was confirmed to his new position Wednesday night, but I'm not going to stop asking him the tough questions. We should have a serious conversation about our trade policies, because these issues matter. And it all starts with transparency from the U.S. Trade Representative.