Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the economy, immigration and how to shore up Social Security

Consumer protection drove Sen. Elizabeth Warren's academic work, launched her entrance into politics, and served as a central plank in her 2020 run for president. In President Biden's State of the Union, he pledged to tackle something long on Warren's issue list, junk fees. The senator joined Amna Nawaz to discuss that effort, the economy, immigration and her plan to shore up Social Security.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Consumer protection drove Elizabeth Warren's academic work, launched her entrance into politics, and served as a central plank in her 2020 run for president.

    In President Biden's State of the Union address earlier this month, he pledged to tackle something long on Warren's issue list, junk fees.

    She joins me now to discuss that effort and if these priorities can become policies in a divided Congress.

    Senator Warren, welcome back, and thanks for joining us.

    Before we get to junk fees, I just want to ask you about a little bit of news on the immigration front this week, which was, yesterday, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that critics say is basically a revival of President Trump's so-called transit ban, which would bar people from seeking asylum if they have come through another country before arriving at the Southern border.

    As you know, you opposed that policy under President Trump. You said it goes against America's laws and our moral commitment. Do you feel the same way today?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

    So, look, I am always concerned when we are not opening ourselves and staying in line both with federal law and with our moral responsibilities.

    But I also want to underscore the other part of this, that the president and his administration are clearly looking for alternative ways to deal with people who want to come to the United States and who are looking for sanctuary here.

    This program is one way to try to do that to make sure that people don't have to take a long, expensive, dangerous trip in order to ask for help. Let's face it. The bottom line is, Congress needs to put in place comprehensive immigration reform.

    In the meantime, the president is trying to meet our responsibilities, and to do it through administrative action. And I'm glad that they're out there trying different parts. I just want to make sure that we continue to live up to our moral responsibilities and international law.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, to that point, Senator Warren, critics would say this does not live up to the promise of a safe, orderly and humane practice.

    And, in fact, these are the same versions of policies that Mr. Trump put into place. Do you disagree with that?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Well, this is why I said I am concerned.

    If the point here is to bar people from being able to apply for help that international law says they can apply for, then that would be a terrible mistake for our country. I want to see us do — meet our moral responsibilities and our responsibilities under international law, but to try to do it in ways that do not force people to take long, dangerous, expensive trips, where they put themselves and their children at risk.

    And that's what the president, I think, is trying to find that line. It would be better if Congress were willing to take that on. But, so far, the Republicans have blocked us on that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I do want to ask you about junk fees, which we know President Biden raised in his State of the Union address.

    There does seem to be shared bipartisan frustration over things like families having to pay more for — to fly together, have seats together or paying too much for Taylor Swift concert tickets. Is there a bill, though? That's the question. Is there a bill and can it get through a divided Congress?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Well, so I'm going to push back on this just a little bit. I'm not sure we need a bill for much of this.

    I want to applaud the agencies that are starting to step up in this area. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stepped up and said, what do you mean you're charging $30 for a late credit card fee — credit card payment? There's not much additional risk associated with that. I think that should be down around $8.

    How it is that the banking regulators are stepping up and pressure from Congress, so that they are reducing the charges on check overdrafts. Department of Transportation, come on, step up on this idea of charging fees for families to be able to sit together.

    So I want to start with the notion that a lot of these junk fees basically fit under the idea that there's one advertised price for the service or for the good. Same thing with hotels, right?

  • Amna Nawaz:


  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    But, because of the junk fees, it actually costs $5 more or $10 war or $25 more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator, you and Senator Bernie Sanders just proposed a plan to shore up Social Security, raising the top rate of both income tax and capital gains tax for only people making more than $250,000 a year.

    There's another argument here. People say why not just raise the retirement age? People are living a lot longer than they used to? What do you make of that?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Well, every time I hear somebody say, just raise the retirement age, I think to myself, boy, there's somebody who didn't work construction for all of their life. There's somebody who didn't have to pick up little kids as a kindergarten teacher or preschool teacher. There's somebody who didn't work as a nurse all their life helping patients in and out of bed and helping roll people over.

    In other words, just because people are living longer does not mean that you can still do those hard jobs at 65, 70, 75. But, also, think of it this way. If we simply said that you're going to pay Social Security on all of your income, even if you are a billionaire, we can extend the life of Social Security to 2095.

    Plus, we can increase Social Security payments by $200 a month. I mean, look, bottom line is, this is math and values. And the math is that if, we simply bring in a little more revenue, we can actually make the Social Security system work on through the rest of this century.

    But it's also about values, how we're going to do that. Is it more important that we protect the wealthy and the well-connected, so that they don't have to pay taxes on their million-dollar incomes, multimillion-dollar incomes?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Senator, what about that or — pardon the interruption — or what about that? What about eliminating the benefit for people of higher incomes? Would you support that?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Why eliminate the benefit? Why not just have people pay taxes? That's the notion of a tax system in the United States.

    And that is, as your income goes up, you pay more in taxes. Believe me, they will still be earning a whole lot more, but pay Social Security taxes on that as well. That way, we don't have to increase taxes on America's middle class, on America's working families, and we don't have to cut benefits. In fact, we can raise them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to ask one more question looking forward to next week, because the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan. It's a plan you really pushed to make happen.

    But if it's struck down, millions of borrowers, for the first time in nearly three years, may have to start repayments on those loans. Is that something they should start preparing to do?

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Well, I have no doubt that the president has the legal authority to cancel this debt.

    My concern is whether the Supreme Court is going to apply the law or they're going to play politics. When Donald Trump was president, he canceled billions and billions and billions of dollars of interest rate payments that were — canceled them, didn't defer them, canceled them. And not one Republican, not one court lifted a hand to say there's any problem. They said, of course, he's legally entitled to do this.

    The president of the United States now is also legally entitled under the law to cancel this debt. And keep in mind who's going to be helped by this. We now know that 90 percent of the people who are going to get help from this debt cancellation make $75,000 or less. It means that, if this goes through, half of all Latinos are going to see all of their debt wiped out and about a third of African Americans, people who worked hard, who 40 percent of them did not end up with a college diploma, but who got out there and tried.

    And the consequences of their having tried, when they came from families that couldn't just afford to write a check in order to pay for college, is that they are getting crushed by this debt. The president has designed a plan to help get people out from underneath that debt. The law lets him do that. I just hope the Supreme Court and the Republicans stay out of the way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joining us tonight.

    Senator Warren, thank you, as always, for your time.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    Thank you.

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