January 11, 2014

Associated Press: For Sen. Warren, a focus on kitchen table finances

By: Steve LeBlanc
January 11, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has garnered the kind of fevered attention during her freshman year that would make most political figures drool - with supporters even calling on her to consider a 2016 presidential bid, a notion she's dismissed.

As she enters her second year in Congress, the Massachusetts Democrat said her focus is instead on improving the economic fortunes of ordinary Americans, a theme that is dovetailing with a renewed emphasis in her party on economic justice and with President Barack Obama's own stated goal of addressing income inequality.

For Warren, stabilizing the ordinary American family's finances rests on a number of pillars - from reining in student debt to easing what she calls the nation's retirement crisis to doubling funding for federal research programs.

Warren has also positioned herself as a passionate defender of Social Security, even bucking Obama on changes she said would weaken a key protection for millions of older Americans.

"Let me put it this way: I disagree with anyone who talks about cutting Social Security benefits," Warren said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "This is a time when we need to talk about the hard decisions we have to make to make sure the Social Security system is stable and will pay benefits forever into the future."

Warren said while adjustments to the program may be needed, calls from some Republicans to privatize Social Security or cut benefits are misguided. She said Americans are hitting their retirement years with more debt, less savings and fewer pension benefits than a generation ago.

Another issue Warren is fired up about is soaring student loans, which she said is leaving new graduates with suffocating debts that can stifle their futures.

Warren has filed what she calls a "skin-in-the-game bill" that tries to pressure colleges to keep costs down for students and ensure they get a meaningful diploma when they graduate.

As part of the bill, colleges that don't meet on-time graduation rates and other criteria must refund a portion of a student's loan.

"Part of the problem we've got is that the federal government pumps billions of dollars into higher education through the federal loan program and grant program and yet asks for no accountability from the colleges," said Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor.

Warren said money spent on finding new treatments and cures can not only improve people's health and lengthen lives but can also have economic benefits. She said a drug that would help delay the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease for five years would end up saving trillions in health care costs in the ensuing decades.

Those kinds of breakthroughs need the support of federal tax dollars, she said.

"That is our best chance going forward," she said. "This is one we have to get out there and fight for."

Doubling the NIH and NSF budgets would also be a boost to Massachusetts, which gets a significant share of those funds.

Read the full story here.