Warren: Do we work for billionaires or students? Senate GOP: Seriously?

Warren: Do we work for billionaires or students? Senate GOP: Seriously?

Two days after President Obama signed an executive order easing federal student loan debt – and tried to pressure the Senate into moving forward on a similar bill sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat –  the Senate voted to sidetrack the bill indefinitely.

After a heated debate, during which Republicans accused Warren of playing politics with the issue, the Senate voted 56-38 on a procedural issue to hold up the bill.

But the declaration that Warren, a rising star among progressives, is using student debt for self-promotion rings hollow: the freshman senator built her career on consumer advocacy, including helping Obama create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from scratch.

Independent studies have shown student loan debt – which often can reach six figures – chews up large portions of a young earner’s income, stifling upward mobility for first-generation college graduates.  Economists have also cited it as a significant drag on the recovering but still fragile American economy.

More facts: Since the 1980s, the average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled, but family incomes are stagnant, according to the White House.  More students than ever are relying on loans to pay for college: 71 percent of undergraduates leave school an average of $29,400 in debt, starting their careers with payments that swallows as much as a rent or mortgage payment.

In signing the executive order Monday, Obama called out Republicans for their opposition on the issue – and most of the other items on his agenda designed to help the middle class.

Watch their reaction to his order – which caps federal student loan repayments at 10 percent of a borrower’s income – and check their record, he said. You’ll see another example of how the GOP will bend over backwards for corporations and the rich, he added, but they’ll turn a deaf ear to those who need their help.

“If you’re a big oil company they’ll go to bat for you,” the president said.  “If you’re a student, good luck.”

Arguing for her bill, Warren tried the same tack against her critics – including those who accuse the bill of not doing enough to help reduce the overall cost of a college education. The bill is a first step to help struggling students, she said, but not a cure-all.

“With this vote, we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate: billionaires or students,” Warren said.

This is a video of Senator Warren’s floor speech when she first announced the bill in early May:


A veteran journalist and former White House correspondent for Politico, Joseph Williams is a veteran journalist, editor and blogger who lives in Washington. He’s the former Deputy Chief of the Boston Globe’s Washington Bureau, and has held senior editing, writing and reporting positions at the Star Tribune in Minnesota, the Miami Herald and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He is also a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.