Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, made her debut in a Democratic primary debate last night in Lowell by directly going after Republican incumbent Scott Brown.
"Forbes magazine named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite senator," Warren said in her opening remarks. "And I was thinking, that’s probably not an award I’m going to get."
Warren, a Harvard law professor, gained notoriety for her advocacy and development of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Her message at last night's debate at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell was that she will fight for the middle class against financial institutions and the government. Warren shared the stage with five other Democratic candidates,
"I stood toe to toe with the largest financial institutions in the country, and sometimes with our own government," Warren said. "And I have fought with them over bank bailouts. I have fought with them over mortgages. I have fought with them over credit cards. I have fought with them over targeting military families for terrible credit products. And quite frankly, that’s what I think you have to do. You have to be willing to take the fight directly to Wall Street and directly to Washington. You have to be willing to stand up on behalf of middle-class families."
Asked about the Occupy Wall Street protests occurring in New York City and elsewhere, Warren said, "no one understands better what the frustration is right now," though it was unclear if she was referring to herself or to the protesters. She did avoid endorsing or denouncing the protests, turning the issue instead back to the financial industry.
"The people on Wall Street broke this country, and they did it one lousy mortgage at a time," Warren said. "It happened more than three years ago, and there has still been no basic accountability and there has been no real effort to fix it."
On taxes and spending, Warren said she would not have extended the current tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, as the Democratic Congress and President Obama did last December. "I think it is a real mistake to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, to keep the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," she said. "We need to let them expire. But it’s not just a money question. It really ultimately is a question about values, about where we want to spend our money. Is it tax cuts for those who’ve already made it? Or is this really about taking that money and investing it in places like education and infrastructure and supporting our seniors?"
Warren said she supports the president's jobs bill but that she believes it should have more federal spending. "I think we need to be putting people to work right now," she said. "When we’ve got work that could be done on roads and bridges, we need to be putting our construction workers to work. People should not be on unemployment. We should be putting them to work."
In response to a question about foreign policy and the planned drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, Warren said political leaders should use the military "wisely" and "carefully" in the future. "We should never go to war if we’re not willing to pay for it right now in the present tense," she said. "We [have to] be careful with our troops and we [have to] pay for it in the present time. It means either all of us go to war or none of us go to war. That’s how I see it."
Among the declared Democratic candidates, Warren is leading the field in recent polls. In one poll, she even edges out Brown in a general election match-up. The race is considered a toss-up and a top target for Democrats nationally.