Morally bankrupt

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says that Donald Trump’s new budget is “right on the target.”

That’s all you need to know about just how devastating Trump’s budget will be for working families in Massachusetts and across this country.

It’s obscene:

  • $5 billion in cuts to public education
  • $73 billion in cuts to Social Security
  • $191 billion in cuts to food stamps
  • $610 billion in cuts to Medicaid (and that's in addition to the $880 billion the House Republicans are slashing in their so-called "health care" bill)

Those are just a few of the highlights. What else gets cut? Money for children’s health care, money to combat the opioid epidemic, money for medical research, money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and so much more.  

This budget is “right on the target” only if the target is to sucker-punch kids, seniors, the poor and the sick. If the Republicans make good on this budget, they could deliver the final blow to America’s working families.

I know we’re just getting back from a holiday weekend, but take a sec for something that matters. Take our pledge to fight this Trump-Ryan budget with everything you’ve got. The people who will get hit by this budget don’t have time for you to wait.

We don’t build a future by ripping health care away from tens of millions of people. We don’t build a future by starving education, by letting our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, and by shutting down the big pipeline of medical and scientific research in this country.

We build a future by making the investments in ourselves and all of our people – so the next kid can get ahead, and the kid after that, and the kid after that. We’ve done this before in our country, and we can do it again.

Budgets aren’t just about dollars and cents. Budgets are about our values, and this budget is morally bankrupt. Sign up now to pledge to fight the Trump-Ryan budget in the weeks ahead.

America's Agenda

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I spent most of my career studying what has happened to America's middle class and why working families are going broke. A few weeks ago, I gave a Powerpoint presentation on it at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention. At heart, I'm a pretty hard-core data nerd, and I love giving this type of talk.

The video here is long – 40 minutes – but if you care about the economic security of working families and what we can do to rebuild our middle class, I think you'll enjoy it.

Share this video on Facebook  |  Watch this video on YouTube

Filing taxes is a pain in the you-know-what

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Each year, taxpayers spend an average of 13 hours preparing their taxes – and an average of $200 on tax preparation services and software. It’s crazy.



Why is it so expensive and complicated to do your taxes? Back in 1998, a Republican Congress passed – and President Clinton signed – a bill requiring the IRS to implement a simple “return-free” filing system by 2008. This system would give taxpayers the option of receiving tax returns already filled out for them with the information the IRS already has on hand. But nearly a decade after that system should have been completed, the Treasury Department still hasn’t fulfilled its legal obligation.



Instead, the IRS surrendered to pressure from the tax preparation industry – giant, powerful companies that make a lot of money off of complicated tax forms. Year after year, the IRS signs contracts with these private companies, agreeing not to create a free, online tax return preparation and filing service – even though it could save taxpayers time and money. And to make sure the IRS keeps tax filing difficult, the tax preparation industry spends millions of dollars lobbying Congress to block return-free filing systems.



The government works for American taxpayers – not for the tax preparation industry. That’s why I’m introducing the Tax Filing Simplification Act to help people file their taxes with less stress & fewer costs.



My new bill – cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, Tom Udall, Jeanne Shaheen, Al Franken, and Tammy Baldwin – makes commonsense changes to the tax filing process:

  • It prohibits the IRS from making agreements with the tax preparation industry to restricts its ability to provide free, online tax preparation or filing services.  
  • It directs the IRS to develop a free, online tax and filing service directly with the federal government, instead of being forced to share your private information with a third-party.
  • It allows all taxpayers to download third-party-provided tax information that the IRS already has about you (like your W2 and 1099 income information) into a software program of your choice.
  • It creates a return-free option for those with simple tax situations, where the IRS would send qualified people pre-filled tax forms explaining how much you owe or how much you’ll be refunded, which taxpayers could then review, sign and file.  

Dozens of the country’s top law professors and economists have already supported this new bill, calling it “a much-needed improvement to our current system.” Secretary Hillary Clinton also supports it, saying: “This important piece of legislation will help us build a better, fairer tax system.” Will you join them?



Please sign up now to tell Congress: Don’t bow to the interests of the tax preparation industry. Support the Tax Filing Simplification Act to make it easier for Americans to file their taxes.

Are you working on Thanksgiving?

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Do you have to work on Thanksgiving?

For some retail, restaurant, and fast food workers, the answer to that question could still be: “I don’t know.”

Half of low-wage workers say they have little or no say over the hours they are scheduled to work. 20-30% are in jobs where they can be called into work at the last minute. Others might think they’ll be working four hours – and getting paid for four hours – then are sent home after one or two because there aren’t enough customers.

Think about how much of a challenge it is to plan for anything – childcare, doctors’ visits, parent-teacher conferences, classes – without knowing when you’ll be working next week.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Schedules That Work Act to cut back some of the most rigid, unstable, and unpredictable scheduling practices. Please join me this Thanksgiving week to tell Congress that America’s workers need Schedules that Work.

Look, I get it. Sometimes employers need flexibility – and the bill allows for that. But routinely placing workers on-call with no guarantee of work, sending workers home early without pay, and punishing workers who request schedule changes all hurt working families.

There’s lots of talk about personal responsibility. But how does someone who depends on every paycheck plan a budget when her work hours can fluctuate 40-70% from week to week? How does a mother arrange for childcare if she doesn’t know if she’s working Thursday or Saturday or Monday? And how does anyone get ahead – going back to school to qualify for a better job or getting a second job to close the gap – if they don’t know when they will be available?

The Schedules that Work Act is about basic fairness:

  • A single mom should know if her hours are being canceled before she arranges for daycare and drives halfway across town to show up to work.
  • Someone who wants to go to school to get an education should be able to ask for a more predictable schedule without getting fired just for asking.
  • A worker who is told to wait around on-call for hours with no guarantee of work hours should get something for his time.

Workers have always had to fight for a level playing field every step of the way. A minimum wage. Basic workplace safety. A 40-hour workweek. Now it’s time to fight again for some basic fairness in scheduling.

I’m ready to fight for America’s workers, but I need you alongside me. Sign up right now to show your support for the Schedules that Work Act.
 

Five years ago today

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Five years ago today, I ran as fast as I could out of a Senate hearing, through the halls, down a stairway, and out onto the plaza behind the Senate. I looked around wildly, then Senator Dick Durbin waved me over to his car. I jumped in the back, and he yelled, “Hit it!” to his driver, and we shot off.

I had been testifying on behalf of the Congressional Oversight Panel about the TARP Wall Street bailout – a hearing that happened to be scheduled for the same time the President was signing the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill into law. The timing looked impossible (they lock the doors on Presidential events, so you can’t just slide into your seat a few minutes late). Senator Durbin said he’d get me there, but we needed to RUN! So the minute I finished testifying, that’s exactly what I did.

With seconds to spare, I was tucked into my assigned seat next to legendary former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke next to him. I’d never seen a President sign anything into law, but the ceremony wasn’t what I’d expected. Don’t get me wrong – the President gave a good speech, and both Chris Dodd and Barney Frank showed up, along with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid and lots of other folks, so it was plenty grand. But for me, it was all about the moment. One minute, there was no consumer agency, but when the President finished his signature – a new agency was born. And I’d seen it happen.

The new consumer agency was about leveling the playing field, about making sure that families didn’t get cheated in the fine print on mortgages and credit cards and checking accounts and all other kinds of financial dealings.  

The financial industry had fought us every inch of the way, spending more than a million dollars a day for over a year. Many times, they declared the agency dead. We didn’t have that kind of money to spend on lobbyists and PR firms – heck, we had hardly any money in comparison – but we didn’t give up. We built an organization from the ground up, and we pulled in allies and grassroots activists from all over the country. It was David-versus-Goliath all the way, and in the fight for the consumer agency, David pulled it off.

And the fight was worth it. The agency went operational four years ago today, and it has handled 650,000 complaints since it opened its doors – some with money back and some with an apology. Mortgages have gotten clearer and easier to read. Work on credit cards, student loans, checking accounts, small-dollar loans, and other products is headed in the right direction. And in that four years, the consumer agency has forced the biggest banks in this country to return more than $10 billion directly to people they cheated.

The CFPB has helped level the playing field, and it has given consumers a tough watchdog who is on their side.

Right now, the Republicans are trying to hamstring the CFPB by slashing its funding, reducing its jurisdiction, and restricting its enforcement authority – steps that would undermine the market by taking financial cops off the beat. Republican presidential candidates have said they would repeal it outright. With no cops, big banks could make more money not by offering better products, but by cheating their customers.  

Sure, the big banks and their Republican friends hate it. But the consumer agency is government that works – and it is government worth fighting for.

We got here with your help, and we’ll protect this agency with your help – because together we can build a better future. In fact, we’ve already started.

Let's get real

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Seven years ago, Wall Street’s high-risk bets brought our economy to its knees.

We’ve made progress since then. The Dodd-Frank Act was the strongest financial reform law in three generations, and it gave regulators a number of common-sense tools to prevent future crises.

But let’s get real: Dodd-Frank did not end the “too big to fail” problem – the problem posed by financial institutions that are so large that their failure would threaten the whole economy. Last summer, both the Fed and FDIC reported publicly that eleven of the big banks were still so risky that if any one of them started to fail, they would need a government bailout or they would risk taking down the American economy – again.

That’s not a statistic that should make anyone sleep well tonight.

That’s why I’ve partnered with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King to reintroduce the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, a bill to reduce taxpayers’ risk in the financial system and decrease the likelihood of future financial crises. Sign up now to show your support.

Four years after the 1929 Wall Street crash, Congress passed the original Glass-Steagall Act to build a wall between boring, commercial banking – savings and checking accounts – and riskier investment banking.

The idea was simple: If banks want access to government-provided deposit insurance, they should be limited to boring banking. If the banks want to engage in high-risk trading, they can go for it – but they can’t get access to insured deposits and put the taxpayer on the hook for some of the risk.

The Glass-Steagall Act laid the groundwork for a half century of financial stability that helped create a robust and thriving middle class. But the commercial banks wanted higher profits and the investment banks wanted access to all that cash in checking accounts, so they starting lobbying Washington to end Glass-Steagall. Finally, in the 1980s, regulators began buckling under pressure from the banks and began poking holes in the wall between investment and commercial banking. In 1999, after 12 separate attempts, Congress repealed most of Glass-Steagall. And in 2008, "too big to fail" was born.

The bill we’re reintroducing this week will rebuild the wall between commercial banks and investment banks – with new protections to fill some of the holes punched in the original bill and to cover products that didn’t exist in 1933. It won’t end “too big to fail” all by itself, but it will reduce risk in the system and make financial institutions smaller and safer.

Sign up now to show your support for the bipartisan 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. Let’s make banks choose: Take big risks using investors’ money or be very careful using depositors’ money – but no more mixing the two.

The big banks and their executives have recovered handsomely from the crisis they helped create, while too many other Americans are still scraping to get by.

We weren’t sent to Washington to work for the big banks. It’s time for a banking system that serves the best interests of the American people.

I agree with Hillary Clinton

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I have serious concerns about ISDS – a policy in the new TPP trade agreement that would let foreign companies challenge American laws outside of American courts.

I’ll give you a recent example of how it works: A big mining company wanted to do some blasting off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Canadian government refused to provide permits because it thought the blasting would harm the local environment and scare off fish that local fishermen needed to make a living.

Thanks to an ISDS provision in a past trade agreement, that mining company didn’t have to go to a Canadian court to challenge the permit decision – they went right to a special ISDS panel of corporate lawyers. Last month, the international panel ruled in favor of the mining company, and the decision cannot be challenged in Canadian courts.

Now the Canadian taxpayers may be on the hook for up to $300 million in “damages” to the mining company – all because their government had the gall to stand up for its environment and the economic livelihood of its local fishermen. And the next time a foreign company wants a blasting permit, what will the Canadian government do?

ISDS isn’t a one-time, hypothetical problem – we’ve seen it in past trade agreements. Just in the past few years:

  • A French company sued Egypt after Egypt raised its minimum wage.
  • A Swedish company sued Germany because Germany wanted to phase out nuclear power for safety reasons.
  • A Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czech Republic didn't bail out a bank that the Dutch company partially owned.
  • Philip Morris is using ISDS right now to try to stop countries like Australia and Uruguay from implementing new rules that are intended to cut smoking rates – because the new laws might eat into the tobacco giant’s profits.

The Obama Administration has said that they have fixed all the problems, and nothing like that will happen here. They just won’t show you how.

Let's send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – ISDS and everything else. Sign the petition right now.

I’m not the only one worried about ISDS. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her book last year:

"We should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors."

In March, more than a hundred law professors from all around the country wrote a letter about their concerns about ISDS. And five of the country’s top legal and economic experts – Joseph Stiglitz, Larry Tribe, Judith Resnik, Cruz Reynoso, and H. Lee Sarokin – all agree:

"ISDS weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the legal system and using a system of adjudication with limited accountability and review. It is antithetical to the fair, public, and effective legal system that all Americans expect and deserve. Proponents of ISDS have failed to explain why our legal system is inadequate to the task. For the reasons cited above, we urge you to uphold the best ideals of our legal system and ensure ISDS is excluded from upcoming trade agreements."

This isn't a partisan issue. I don’t often agree with the conservative Cato Institute, and I suspect they don’t often agree with me. But the head of Cato’s trade policy program said:

"[ISDS] raises serious questions about democratic accountability, sovereignty, checks and balances, and the separation of power... Sen. Warren’s perspective on ISDS is one that libertarians and other free market advocates should share."

The Obama Administration says you have nothing to worry about – to trust them that nothing could possibly go wrong. But they won’t release the text of the TPP agreement to the public for you to see it for yourself.

Frankly, "just trust us" isn’t good enough – not for a trade deal that multinational corporations have been working on for years while the public has been kept in the dark.

Tens of thousands of people have already signed our petition: No vote to fast-track trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – including ISDS. Please sign the petition now.

You can't read this

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Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?

Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.

Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”

If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.

Let’s send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal. Sign this petition right now to make the TPP agreement public.

The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.

For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.

If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.

Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it. 

Sherrod Brown has been leading this fight, and he points out that TPP isn’t classified military intelligence – it’s a trade agreement among 12 countries that control 40% of the world’s economy. A trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely. It might even affect the new financial rules we put in place after the 2008 crisis. This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.

When giant corporations get to see the details and the American people don’t, we all lose. Let’s level the playing field: No vote on fast-tracking trade until the public can read the TPP deal.

We’ve all seen the tricks and traps that corporations hide in the fine print of contracts. We’ve all seen the provisions they slip into legislation to rig the game in their favor. Now just imagine what they have done working behind closed doors with TPP.

We can’t keep the American people in the dark.

Without rules, financial markets don't work

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For too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast the debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp. They generally put Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second.  

But that so-called “choice” gets it all wrong.  

Rules are not the enemy of markets. Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking skyrockets, and markets fall apart. Rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

Republicans claim – loudly and repeatedly – that they support competitive markets, but their approach to financial regulation is pure crony capitalism. It helps the rich and the powerful protect and expand their wealth and their power – and leaves everyone else behind.  

This week, I gave a big policy speech where I presented ways we can promote competition, innovation, and safety in financial markets. The speech was long and wonky, but it really boils down to two principles:

  • First, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to cheat people. Markets work only if people can see and understand the products they are buying, only if people can reasonably compare one product to another, only if people can’t get fooled into taking on far more risk than they realize just so that some fly-by-night company can turn a quick profit and move on. That’s true for families buying mortgages and for pension plans buying complex financial instruments.
  • Second, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to get the taxpayers to pick up their risks. That’s true for using insured deposits for high-risk trading, and it’s true for letting Too-Big-to-Fail banks get a wink-and-a-nod guarantee of a government bailout.

We know what changes we need to make financial markets work better. Strengthen the rules to prevent cheating. Make the cops do their jobs. Cut the banks down to size.  Change the tax code to promote more long-term investment. Tackle shadow-banking done by non-bank firms and subsidiaries.  

Changes like these can make a real difference. They can help protect hard-working families from cheats and liars. They can help rein in the lawless practices that are still too common on Wall Street. They can end Too Big to Fail.

The secret to better markets isn’t turning loose the biggest banks to do whatever they want. The secret is smarter, more structural regulation that forces everyone to play by the same rules and doesn’t let anyone put the entire economy at risk.

The key steps aren’t hard. It just takes political courage – and a strong demand from people like you – to complete the unfinished business of financial reform.

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