Senator Warren Discusses Coronavirus Bailout Negotiations on MSNBC
Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) discussed the coronavirus bailout and stimulus negotiations this morning with MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle.
A full video of the interview is available here, and a transcript is available below.
Stephanie Ruhle: I want to bring in Massachusetts Democratic senator and former presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator, thank you for joining me this morning. Before we get into the bill, what we are asking every individual and company to do right now because of the health crisis is shut down temporarily, but we still have bills to pay. Every one of us. Do you support the idea of putting all of it on hold for two months, meaning no one owes anything, sort of a national economic holiday, the government takes over?
Elizabeth Warren: So, look, I think that is one approach that we can use. Another approach we can use right now that's in the bill that's pending in the Senate is to put cash into the hands of the American people. There are a lot of different approaches we could use here to be able to relieve the suffering that people are feeling, but we've got to move, and we've got to move quickly on behalf of the American people. And playing political games like Mitch McConnell was doing on the floor last night is simply not helping on that.
SR: But Senator, if you're just sending cash to every American, that certainly helps cushion the blow for the time being, but as I mentioned before, we're about to face a wave of bankruptcies for businesses big and small. If we just pay people for a couple of months and businesses are no longer in existence, they won't even have a job to go back to.
EW: Of course, and that's the reason that we need to make sure that there's help both to businesses and to individuals, but in both cases, notice where you focus this, Stephanie, is making sure that the help is making it down to the level of the individual worker. So for example, part of what we're proposing is cancel student loan debt. That will mean for tens of millions of people, they just got more money in their pockets. That's one bill they won't have to worry about. Also increasing Social Security and disability payments by $200 a month, doing it every month for the next two years. That's additional income that seniors can rely on. Having an unemployment system that is now expanded and covers gig workers and part-time workers and gives them a higher Social Security payment, that makes sure that we're directing money to people who are out of work and getting it straight into their pockets. And, the money that goes to big corporations is to say that's fine. We're willing to help the big corporations understand this is a time of crisis, but there are going to be some strings on that money to make sure it's not just used to pay executive salaries and payouts to shareholders and that that money goes right down to supporting people's paychecks. What we're looking for here is to make sure that whatever taxpayer dollars go in, they're there not to help the tree tops, but to help the grass roots.
SR: Let's talk about these restrictions, because last night the President said he doesn't like buybacks. He doesn't want to hear about CEOs getting paid more money because the value of their stock went up. But have Republicans put any of these sort of restrictions in the bill that would protect workers and would help people all the way down the line?
EW: So that's what the fight has been about. I'm glad to hear that the President supports the Democratic position on this bill, but we need real restrictions written into law. It's not enough just to give them the money and say, hey, by the way, we really hope you spend it on your employees. You know, we're responsible here for the taxpayers and for the health of the American economy. And if that money ends up being used just for those at the top and not for everyone else, it's not good for the families that need relief and it's not good for strengthening and re-growing this economy. So that's why I've put out-and Democrats have rallied around-having about 8 different proposals that say here are the things we've got to see to make sure that both in the short run and the long run that these corporations, if they take taxpayer dollars, are going to be making an investment in their workers and investment in the American economy.
SR: How long do you think we need to put our lives and the economy on pause? More and more economists are fearing the longer we do it, we could not just be in a recession. We could be in a depression.
EW: I know, but you know, the very first thing we all have to keep an eye on is the health and safety of the American people. So a big part of the answer to your question just starts with the scientists, with the doctors, with the epidemiologists who are watching what's happening with this virus. Right now, we don't have testing all across this country. Until we get testing everywhere and it's readily available and free, it's hard to track. Whether the virus is continuing to grow or whether maybe it is starting to flatten out. So, the urgency of the moment is to make sure that we're taking care of the people who show symptoms of being ill, but that we get enough tests out there to really get our arms around how big is this problem and what does it look like for later this week, and for next week, and for next month. But (once) we have that information, we'll be able to make much better plans around the economy overall and getting things back to normal.
SR: What does it look like to get all this money to the American people or small business if we're just expanding small business loans? That's going to be tens of thousands of checks that have to be processed. Same thing with the American people. When TARP happened, the government had a hard time even getting that money to those 700-plus companies. Logistically, how would it work?
EW: You know, this is actually a real concern and we've had a lot of conversation about whether it's better to let the banks manage this for the federal government or just to make direct payments from the federal government. You know, I will say this is one of the advantages, for example, to canceling student loan debt. That's something that can be done right here in Washington. You just do the work on the computers and it's done. And it doesn't take a lot of paperwork person by person. Similarly, increasing Social Security payments by $200 or payments to people who are living on disability by $200 a month. You can do that by computer and get that money out the door. But having to build a structure to be able to figure out where the money goes and to keep track of where it goes and what the repayment obligations are is going to be more complex. Doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it. It does mean we should be doing it for small businesses, but it is going to be a harder challenge.
SR: But Senator, if I am the head of a small business, if I have 50, even 100 employees and I need to get through this time, canceling student debt doesn't solve anything for me. I've got to pay my bills immediately. What's the best thing we can do for those businesses? There's 67% of the employers in this country.
EW: Well, look at it this way. Right now, different states-and I'd like to see the federal government do it-are putting constraints on foreclosures and evictions. They are putting constraints on debt collection. So that means the immediate pressure is not quite as intense as it otherwise would be. What we'd like to see is employers focusing on keeping their workers receiving their paychecks, and to get money to the employers as quickly as possible on that. In some cases, what we're able to do, if we can get this through law is to make the promises to the employers they'll be made whole. That loosens up the employers to keep writing those checks, try to get loan facilities out so that they've got liquidity and keep that money moving so it gets to people's hands. That's the part that matters the most. We don't want to see unemployment continue to rise.
SR: Quickly, before we go, should they be loans or grants? If we just put our small businesses further in debt, how are they going to get out from under it in three months? They're not going to make this money up.
EW: I've made exactly this argument. In a time of crisis, we need to be thinking about a combination of loans and grants with some real emphasis on the grant side of this problem. This is a crisis that has hit small businesses across this country. They have been shuttered in order to protect the health of everyone in this country, and I'm grateful to the small businesses that have closed up shop and said we'll do this in the time of a national emergency. But that means we should all be pitching in to help these small businesses get back on their feet. Right now, the particular proposal under discussion is a loan with forgiveness on the other end if the small business is able to maintain payroll. In other words, there's a string attached to it, and it very much focuses on whether or not workers are able to keep that income coming in. That's good for the individual worker, and it's good for the economy overall. That's the direction I think we ought to be going.
SR: Senator Warren, I know you got your work cut out for you today. This is a really, really important measure. I wish you all the best of luck. It is so important to the American people and the American economy. Thanks for your time.
EW: Thank you.
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