POLITICS

Elizabeth Warren's Message At Netroots Nation

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) spoke at the annual Netroots Nation gathering at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday.

During the progressive convention, Warren discussed increasing the minimum wage, student loans, Wall Street and taxes.

On Saturday, 2016 Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will speak at the covention.

Read her remarks as prepared for delivery below:

It occurred to me this morning that it has been exactly five years since my first Netroots nation.  Golly, five years. 

So much change. So much progress.

A new consumer agency that has forced banks to return more than 10 billion directly to the people they cheated.

Equal marriage in every state in the union—and proof positive that in the end love wins.

Comprehensive health care reform.

Confederate flags taken down everywhere. 

Oh and here's one. The guy who was Senator from Massachusetts five years ago now sends around shirtless pictures of himself and sells diet pills.  Seriously, look it up. 

That's a lot of change.  And yet, some things are constant—never changing. I'm not going to point fingers or name names, but I see a lot of friends who are just as hungover from karaoke as ever. 

I know there was some controversy about being in Arizona, and not because it’s hot enough out there to melt your flip flops. So I want to start, right off the bat, as loud as I can. No ifs, no ands, no buts: Arizona’s SB 10-70 is a stupid law. It’s stupid, it’s racist, it’s unconstitutional, and it should be struck down. And let’s say loud and clear to the Republicans: if you truly want to do something about immigration, then get out of the way, get on the right side of history, and let us pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Last year, I came to Netroots to talk about what we believe in. Immigration reform was high on the list, along with equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, Social Security, climate, marriage equality, Wall Street reform. OK, it was a long list. But if you weren’t with us in Detroit—don’t worry – Sarah Palin did a fascinating line-by-line analysis of the whole thing on YouTube. Deep. Wow, that was a great moment in UTube bizzaro-time.

But no matter who wants to make fun, yes, we talk about our beliefs. We talk about our values. We talk about what it means to be a progressive because these are the things that define what we’re fighting for. Here’s the heart of it: We believe that the real strength of this country starts with people—not with corporations. The economy grows when hard working families have a chance to improve their lives. The country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. Our lives improve when we reach out to our neighbors. We’re tired of a game that’s rigged for the rich and the powerful. For Progressives, it’s all about a fighting chance, not just for some of us, but for all of us.

Yes, I hear the naysayers – the lobbyists and the PR machines, the political pundits and talking heads, the well-greased politicians and the oh-so-important experts who write off our values as too liberal, too unrealistic to be mainstream. They have spent millions of hours and billions of dollars to help create an Insider Washington—a Washington where everything works wonderfully for those with money and power. They have built the ultimate cozy, comfy game that is rigged for the insiders. It’s the Washington where, despite all the down-home television ads during election season, the values of the American people are mostly ignored.

Insider Washington watched one of its own representatives nearly die from a gunshot to the head – just a hundred miles away from here – then refused to hear the country’s calls for commonsense gun reform. Insider Washington worries that we’ve been too tough on Wall Street while the American people know that the banksters who broke our economy belong in jail. Insider Washington labels any idea with a hint of spunk or ambition as “radical and outside the mainstream,” while millions of Americans show up for rallies or chip in ten bucks to support a democracy that reflects our true values.

Well I’m here to make an announcement to Insider Washington: America is far more progressive than you are! When it comes to the economy, when it comes to building a future, Americans across this country know the direction we should head—and if we give them a chance, they are ready to go.

Let’s look at some facts. By the way, we’ll post the footnotes for the numbers.

  • Last November, when Democrats across the country had a terrible day, four—four—Republican states voted to raise their minimum wage. In South Dakota, 55% of voters supported a minimum wage increase. In Nebraska, 59%. Arkansas, 66%. And in Alaska, 69%. That shouldn’t surprise anyone: 70% of Americans across this country support an increase of the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour.  Republicans may vote to keep workers in poverty, but on minimum wage, the American people are Progressives.
  • Progressives believe that students shouldn’t be crushed by debt and the federal government should not make a profit on student loans. And so do 73% of  Americans. Beltway Republicans may vote to stomp on people who are deep in debt, but on student loans, the American people are Progressives – and to them “debt free” college sounds pretty darn good.
  • Progressives believe people should be able to care for sick family members without fear of losing their jobs, and so do 80% of Americans. Republicans may pander to their big business pals, but on paid sick leave, the American people are Progressives.

  • Progressives believe that millionaires and billionaires should pay the same tax rates as their secretaries, and so do two-thirds of all Americans. Republicans may support special breaks for the rich and powerful, but on tax fairness, the American people are Progressives.

  • Progressives believe that after a lifetime of work, people deserve to retire in dignity and that means a commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security—and 79% of likely voters in last year’s election also supported increasing Social Security benefits. Republicans may try to cut benefits, but on Social Security, the American people are Progressives and they are ready to take on the retirement crisis in this country.

  • Progressives believe in trade, but not the kind written behind closed doors by corporate lawyers that leave American workers eating dirt. Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor some sort of trade restrictions, and more than half oppose Fast Tracking trade deals. Republicans—and some Democrats—may want to make it easier for multinational corporations to ship jobs overseas, but on trade, the American people are Progressives.

  • Progressives believe that powerful corporations and billionaires have far, far too much influence over our politics and their stranglehold over our government rigs the game. Nearly three-quarters of America agrees. Republicans may cozy up to their billionaire sugar-daddies, but on campaign finance and Washington reform, the American people are Progressives.

  • Progressives believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher legal enforcement – and that, five years after Dodd-Frank – it’s time to stop pretending and really END Too Big to Fail with rules like the Glass-Steagall Act. And 79% of Americans believe Wall Street should be held accountable with tougher rules. Beltway Republicans may be willing to let the biggest banks break our economy again, but on Wall Street reform, the American people are Progressives.

  • And finally, I want to make one more very important point: Progressives believe that it shouldn’t take a revolution on YouTube to drive a revolution in law enforcement. It shouldn’t take a hurricane in New Orleans or a massacre in Charleston for Americans to wake up to what is happening – what is still happening – to people of color in this country. And it sure as heck shouldn’t take poll numbers to unite us in our determination to build a future for ALL our children. House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag and Republican leaders may cower in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the American people understand that Black Lives Matter and America is not a country that stands for racism, bigotry or hatred. To build an economy that creates real opportunity, that doesn’t lock up millions of our fellow human beings and that uses the talents of all our people, Americans must prove that on equality and justice, the American people are Progressives.

I don’t care what Insider Washington says. They can be oh-so-sophisticated and tell us how our ideas are too progressive, too far left or just not realistic. But here at Netroots Nation, we have news for Insider Washington -- the American people ARE Progressive—and our day is coming.

Our values are America’s values, and America’s values are progressive values.

So how does Insider Washington survive? When the Insiders are so far out of sync with the American people, how can they keep calling the shots? How do they keep the game rigged? A big part of it is money. Money for campaigns and PACs. But money for so much more. Money to hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers. Money for PR firms and trade associations to sell your message. Money for think tanks to give the cover of respectability for genuinely ugly ideas. Money that flows like a river through Washington. Money that rushes everywhere, sweeping along as much as it can—and threatening to drown anything—or anyone—that gets in its way.

And there’s another pot of money we should talk about—the money that keeps the revolving door spinning. It’s about big bonuses that Wall Street banks pay their executives to spend a little time running our government and about the big payoffs that these banks offer when people leave government and head to Wall Street.

Let’s talk about just one example of those revolving doors—the gold-plated door with Citigroup’s name engraved in big letters. How fast has their revolving door spun?

Three of the last four Treasury Secretaries under Democratic presidents have had lose Citigroup ties. The fourth was offered the CEO position at Citigroup, but turned it down.

  • The Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve system is a Citigroup alum.
  • The Undersecretary for International Affairs at Treasury is a Citigroup alum.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative is a Citigroup alum
  • The person nominated to be Deputy US Trade Rep – who is currently an assistant secretary at Treasury – is a Citigroup alum.
  • A recent chairman of the National Economic Council at the White House is a Citigroup alum.
  • A recent Chairman of the Office of Management and Budget went to Citigroup immediately after leaving the White House. 
  • Another recent Chairman of the Office of Management of Budget is also a Citi alum – but I’d be double counting here because now he’s the Secretary of the Treasury.  

And those are just the most visible parts. The revolving door spins for all the deputies and assistants and special assistants too.

So what has the revolving door helped produce for Citi? During the financial crisis, Citigroup received nearly half a trillion dollars in government bailouts.10 That’s half a trillion with a “t.” Last December, the Cromnibus bill—the one that had to pass or the government would be shut down—had a little provision written by Citigroup lobbyists tucked into it– a provision that would make it easier for big banks like Citi to gamble with taxpayer money and once again get bailed out.

And even when we found that giant giveaway—when we blew the BS whistle loud and long, when it was all over the blogs and the press, when the issue was red hot—even then, Citi still managed to rake together enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass it into law. Think about how much power Citi had to get that done.

Sure, laws matter. But it also matters who interprets those laws. Who enforces those laws. Who monitors what’s going on and exercises judgment – judgment to indict a bunch of bankers who break the law or to cut a more civilized deal that lets the bank pay a fine and all the executives take home bonuses?

Think of it this way: How would the world be different today if, when the economic crisis hit, Joe Stiglitz had been Secretary of the Treasury and Simon Johnson and Robert Reich had been key economic advisers? It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Personnel is policy.

Wall Street insiders have enough influence in Washington already without locking up one powerful job after another in the Executive Branch of our government. Sure, private sector experience can be valuable – no one ever said otherwise – but there is a point at which the revolving door compromises public interest. And we are way beyond that point.

We need a government that doesn’t work just for the rich and powerful—we need a government that works for the people!

And this is why I came to you.

We have a presidential election coming up. I think anyone running for that job – anyone who wants the power to make every key economic appointment and nomination across the federal government – should say loud and clear that they agree: we don’t run this country for Wall Street and mega corporations. We run it for people.

Anyone who wants to be President should appoint only people who have already demonstrated they are independent, who have already demonstrated that they can hold giant banks accountable, who have already demonstrated that they embrace the kind of ambitious economic policies that we need to rebuild opportunity and a strong middle class in this country.

So let’s turn that into something specific: Just two days ago, Tammy Baldwin introduced a new bill to slow down the revolving door. The bill would put an end to Wall Street banks giving multi-million dollar bonuses to their executives for taking on government jobs. No more paying people off to remember their Wall Street friends while they run our government. No more wink-and-a-nod working-in-the-public-interest while pocketing millions of dollars from your friends on Wall Street—the same friends who will welcome you back once your turn through the government is over. That won’t fix everything, but it will throw some heavy sand in the gears of the revolving door—and it’s a bill any presidential candidate should be able to cheer for.

And that’s why I’m here today. I’m here because I need your help, Netroots Nation—the country needs your help. The only way that candidates for President—or for any office—will slow down the revolving door, the only way candidates will say “enough is enough” is if you—YOU—demand that they say it.

We’re running out of time. The middle class in this country has been hacked at, squeezed, and hammered until it’s nearly at the breaking point. Unions are under a brutal attack. With no job growth in the middle, the poor are trapped, with opportunity only a distant dream. A generation of young people is trapped in a slow-growth economy in the US while giant corporations build investments overseas. And as our world heats up and our oceans rise, billionaires buy more and more elections to protect their interests in coalmines and oil wells. We’re running out of time.

We can’t afford to nibble around the edges any more. Money and influence peddling is strangling our country. Insider Washington is calling the shots. We need leadership that is willing to fight for this country, leadership that is willing to make working people a first priority, leadership that recognizes the importance of major, structural change – on everything from Wall Street regulation to tax policy to education to trade. We need leaders to show they understand the urgency of the moment, leaders to show some backbone and ambition.

You heard the numbers on minimum wage, student loans, Wall Street, taxes—you heard them. Two-thirds. 73% 80% Those were Democrats and Republicans. Independents and Libertarians. Young people and seniors. Farmers and programmers. People who breathe party politics and people who would rather swallow a slug than admit to liking any political party. That’s America. And as different as we are, on these key economic issues, on the economic issues that will shape the future of this country, that America is Progressive.

But Insider Washington isn’t listening. Insider Washington turns its back. So it’s on us. It’s on us to show that our agenda is America’s agenda – that America’s agenda is a progressive agenda. It’s on us to fight for the values that we believe in.

We get what we fight for – so let’s get out there and fight.

 

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