WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) threw her increasingly high-profile name behind expanding Social Security benefits instead of reducing them, rejecting calls from those in both parties to cut payments as a way to trim government spending.
Warren joins a growing push that includes Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who argue that rather than switch to a "chained" consumer price index that cuts retiree benefits, the nation should adopt CPI-E, which measures the actual cost of living for the elderly and would raise benefits to meet actual needs.
Chained CPI assumes that when prices rise, people switch to cheaper products. Proponents say the inflation measure should be reduced to account for that, meaning the government could pay people smaller cost-of-living adjustments.
But Warren blasted that approach in a Senate floor speech Monday, saying that retirement security has become a "crisis" in America in which two-thirds of seniors depend on Social Security for the majority of their income.
"Chained CPI falls short of the actual increases in costs that seniors face, pure and simple," Warren said. "Chained CPI? It’s just a fancy way of saying cut benefits."
She took special exception to a Monday Washington Post editorial that called expanding Social Security "wrongheaded" and suggested the nation should instead be more concerned about the higher percentage of children living in poverty.
Warren said that argument was the "uglier side" of the debate.
"The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong," Warren said. "This is about our values, and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve.
"We don’t build a future for our children by cutting basic retirement benefits for their grandparents," Warren said.
To forecasters predicting that Social Security is on the path to insolvency, Warren noted that the safety net is actually pretty sturdy at the moment.
"Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. If we do nothing, Social Security will be safe for the next 20 years and even after that will continue to pay most benefits," she said. "With some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many more years –- and could even increase benefits."
She did not specify the adjustments she would favor, but Sanders and others want to lift the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security, which currently stands at $113,700. Above that amount, no Social Security contributions are made now.
But cutting benefits -- when pensions are disappearing and there's a $6.6 trillion gap in what Americans younger than 65 save and what they will need in retirement -- is the wrong direction, Warren said.
"So long as we are in the midst of a real and growing retirement crisis -– a crisis that is shaking the foundations of what was once a vibrant and secure middle class –- the absolute last thing we should be doing is talking about
cutting back on Social Security," Warren said. "The absolute last thing we should do in 2013 -– at the very
moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors -- is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch."
President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have signaled a willingness to cut Social Security if doing so would be part of some grand bargain to trim deficits, but Democrats across the board have ruled out such cuts in the current budget debate.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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Introduces Financial Product Safety Commission
Elizabeth Warren <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/10/financial-product-safety_n_173691.html" target="_hplink">announced</a> a bill creating a Financial Product Safety Commission with House and Senate Democrats in March 2009. The body was designed to have oversight over mortgages and other financial instruments to protect consumers against predatory practices. She said if the agency had existed before the subprime collapse then "there would have been millions of families who got tangled in predatory mortgages who never would have gotten them." HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/10/financial-product-safety_n_173691.html" target="_hplink">reported</a>: <blockquote>Without all these toxic assets on banks' balance sheets, the institutions wouldn't be on the brink of collapse and the recession would be more manageable. "Consumer financial products were the front end of the destabilization of the American economic system." Sen. Charles Schumer's cosponsorship of the bill is notable because of his proximity to Wall Street. The bill's merit, the New York Democrat said, is that it regulates the actual financial product rather than the company producing it.</blockquote>
Geithner Opposes Her Heading CFPB
Tim Geithner expressed opposition to her nomination for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/15/tim-geithner-opposes-nomi_n_647691.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour. Geithner thought Warren's views on the big banks and Wall St. were too tough. Warren's oversight of the Treasury department as a watchdog for TARP apparently irked Geithner, agressively <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz7ruJw6byQ" target="_hplink">questioning him</a> during Congressional hearings: <blockquote>While her grilling of Geithner in September, over what members of Congress have called the "backdoor bailout" of Wall Street through AIG, inspired the "squirm" video, just last month Warren pressed Geithner on the administration's lackluster foreclosure-prevention plan, Making Home Affordable. Criticizing him for Treasury's failure to keep families in their homes, she questioned Treasury's commitment to homeowners.</blockquote>
Ready For A Fight
Elizabeth Warren <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/03/fight-for-the-cfpa-is-a-d_n_483707.html" target="_hplink">reiterated her desire</a> for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency to HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour: <blockquote>"My first choice is a strong consumer agency," the Harvard Law professor and federal bailout watchdog said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor."</blockquote>
Named Interim Chief Of CFPB
In September of 2010, HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/13/elizabeth-warren-interim-cfpb-chief-consideration_n_715457.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> that Elizabeth Warren was being considered as a candidate for interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Days later the announcement was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/15/white-house-taps-warren_n_715291.html" target="_hplink">official</a>. The move allowed Warren to set up the groundwork for the agency immediately without risking a GOP filibuster of her nomination, a response that seemed certain giving the <a href="http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2010/09/15/opposition_mounts_for_interim_appointment/" target="_hplink">public opposition expressed</a> by some Republican senators. When it came time to put forth an appointment for a longterm CFPB chief, Warren was overlooked, partially because she was seen as unfeasible, but also, HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/republican-opposition-to-elizabeth-warren_n_902165.html" target="_hplink">reported</a>, because she was a divisive figure within the Obama administration: <blockquote>Ultimately, Warren wanted the job, allies said. And near-united opposition from Senate Republicans -- 44 of them signed a letter saying they'd oppose any nominee -- should have made it easier for Obama to nominate her, since the Republicans publicly said they wouldn't support anyone for the role. Instead, the Republicans made it easy for the White House to deflect questions about the administration's lack of support for Warren. Asked how she squared the administration's public statements with its private ones, Warren declined. "I really have to say, I'm just not there. I'm not in the intricacies of the political part of this, and I can't comment," Warren said Monday. "The truth is I don't know anything about it."</blockquote>
Chats With HuffPost About Bureau
In October 2010, shortly after being tasked with building the groundwork for the CFPB, Warren stopped by HuffPost to chat with Ryan Grim and Shahien Nasiripour "This is the first real agency we've built in the 21st century -- well, there's Homeland Security, but one for the people. And it means we ought to think differently," said Warren. "The government can talk to people and people can talk to the government differently than when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was built, or when the FDA was built. And if we do this right, that should change the whole dynamic of who this agency really is." HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/07/elizabeth-warren-consumer_1_n_754026.html" target="_hplink">reported</a>: <blockquote>By gathering information, contracts and documents from homeowners and consumers, and allowing watchdog groups and individual concerned citizens access to those documents, the agency can exponentially expand the manpower it has to review the operations of banks and lenders. The goal would be to become aware of a particularly fraudulent practice before it is rampant and insulates itself in the financial services industry.</blockquote> For full video of the interview, click <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/07/elizabeth-warren-consumer_1_n_754026.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
GOP Calls Her A Liar
In May, Warren was called to testify before a House subcommittee and defend the merits of the CFPB. Some of the questions submitted by Republican representatives appeared confused and at times aggressive, leaving Warren to correct them on some basic facts about the actual purpose of the bureau. HuffPost's Mike McCauliff <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/24/elizabeth-warren-liar-gop-facts-cfpb_n_866505.html" target="_hplink">relays</a> one particularly contentious moment: <blockquote>The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), began the proceedings by suggesting Warren had lied to the committee in a previous hearing that had questioned the CFPB's role in offering advice to state attorneys general negotiating a settlement with abusive mortgage servicers. At the time, Warren said she was proud her agency had been able to help, at the request of the treasury secretary. But McHenry brought up the memo again, suggesting it showed that she hid a larger role in the negotiations from Congress. "This is our job, and we're trying to do our job, to be helpful to other agencies, and to help those agencies to hold those who break the law accountable," Warren said, repeating that she was proud of the work.</blockquote>
Announces Senate Run
Elizabeth Warren <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/elizabeth-warren-senate-massachusetts_n_960510.html" target="_hplink">announced</a> on September 14, 2011 that she was running for the United States Senate seat currently held by Scott Brown (R-Mass.) "After listening to people all across our state who know that we can do better, folks who are frustrated like I am that Washington just doesn't get it, I'm running for the Senate so I can fight every day for Massachusetts families," Warren <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/senate-announcement_b_961624.html" target="_hplink">wrote on The Huffington Post</a>.
One month into her campaign to secure the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren raised $3.15 million, largely <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/elizabeth-warren-raises-3_n_1003836.html" target="_hplink">from small donations</a>. According to a campaign email, 96 percent of donations were under $100. "These are pretty amazing numbers for our first official finance report, raised in a very short period of time," she said in an email to supporters. Warren's campaign has also attracted <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/elizabeth-warren-builds-s_n_1018334.html" target="_hplink">large liberal donors</a>, including colleagues from Harvard and well-known liberal donors like George Soros, Barbra Streisand, and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Warren <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/11/elizabeth-warren-scott-brown-fundraising_n_1199680.html " target="_hplink">raised</a> an impressive $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. In early January, the candidate's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/16/elizabeth-warren-money-bomb-fundraising_n_1208511.html?ref=mostpopular" target="_hplink">money bomb</a> pulled in more than $100,000 in just one weekend.
Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/elizabeth-warren-scott-brown-attack-ads_n_1223574.html" target="_hplink">signed a pledge</a> to curb third-party attack ads. If either campaign breaks the agreement, they would donate half the cost of the outside ad to a charity of their opponent's choice. "This may not work," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/david-catanese/2012/01/warren-this-may-not-work-112119.html" target="_hplink">Warren said in an email to supporters</a>. "But there's enough at stake to make it worthwhile to try to take back this election."