Presidential races

Clinton vs. Warren: Where they disagree

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There are five major policy areas that shed daylight between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Clinton is expected to run for president in 2016, but some on the left are pining for Warren to launch a bid. The Massachusetts senator has repeatedly denied she is interested in running for the White House. However, her recent campaign stumping for Democratic candidates — as well as a planned trip to Israel — have stoked the 2016 speculation.

Clinton and Warren do agree on some issues, but on a variety of issues, their policies clash.


Expanding social security 

During her 2008 presidential bid, Clinton was relatively non-committal about reforms to the Social Security program while Warren has not minced words.

“Seniors have worked their entire lives and have paid into the system, but right now, more people than ever are on the edge of financial disaster once they retire — and the numbers continue to get worse,” she said last November.

“That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits — not cutting them. Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day.” 

Clinton has been more coy on the issue of entitlements. She said in 2007 that certain reforms such as cutting benefits, privatizing the program or raising the retirement age were “off the table.” There were some articles at the time that gave mixed signals on whether she would be willing to increase payroll taxes.

One account from the Associated Press featured a conversation between a campaigning Clinton and an Iowa voter in which the candidate said she might consider committing more of workers’ income to Social Security.

“She told him she didn’t want to put an additional tax burden on the middle class but would consider a ‘gap,’ with no Social Security taxes on income from $97,500 to around $200,000. Anything above that could be taxed,” according to the article. The idea was similar to then-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was seen as to the left of Clinton.

Back then, workers paid taxes toward Social Security on their first $97,500 in earnings — any earnings above that remain untaxed. (Now that amount stands at $117,000.)  

Ultimately, Clinton officially shied away from the increase in taxes, and stuck with official comments that revolved around improving the economy overall. 

“We need to get back to the fiscal responsibility that we had in the 1990s, when we weren’t draining the Social Security fund any more,” she said. 


Surveillance programs

During the promotional tour for her book “Hard Choices,” Clinton stood behind the U.S. surveillance programs and criticized former government contractor Edward Snowden for leaking sensitive information.

Most of what Snowden disclosed, she said, “concerned the surveillance that the United States undertakes, totally legally, against other nations.”

While she has backed reforms to “make sure that it doesn’t go too far,” Clinton told NPR that “collecting information about what’s going around the world is essential to our security.” 

“There were other ways that Mr. Snowden could have expressed his concerns,” such as reaching out to Congress, Clinton continued.

“I think everyone would have applauded that because it would have added to the debate that was already started. Instead, he left the country — first to China, then to Russia — taking with him a huge amount of [sensitive] information,” she said, adding that during her trips to Russia, she would leave all electronics on the State Department plane with the batteries out to prevent hacking.

Warren would like to end the bulk-collection of phone records, which is authorized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and set to expire June 1, 2015. 

Even though Warren praised the Obama’s administration’s reforms of its surveillance apparatus earlier this year, she said they might not go far enough.

“Congress must go further to protect the right to privacy, to end the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans, to make the intelligence community more transparent and accountable,” Warren said.


Bankruptcy reform

In the Senate, Clinton voted for an overhaul to the bankruptcy system that would have made debt forgiveness more difficult for borrowers to obtain. She said in 2008 that she regretted the vote, but it still could become a sticking point, as it did when she faced off with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The credit card lobby pushed hard for the legislation, which did not prevail when Clinton voted for it in 2001, but did become law after another attempt by Congress in 2005. (Clinton did not vote in that round, telling reporters she missed the vote to be with Bill Clinton after his heart surgery.) 

“The right kind of reform is necessary,” Clinton said in a press release about the legislation in 2001. “We’re on our way toward that goal, and I hope we can achieve final passage of a good bankruptcy reform bill this year” 

During her initial presidential campaign, she said she would have voted against the 2005 bill that eventually passed. 

Warren specialized in bankruptcy law and personal-finance issues while teaching at Harvard Law School. She had been published and widely quoted in national media before becoming a big player on the Washington scene in 2008 as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, a watchdog panel that oversaw the economic stimulus. 

In 2006, Warren blasted the new law as ineffective at curbing fraud, which was the impetus for its passage. 

“The new laws will drive up the costs for debtors and shrink the protection available, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer people in trouble will turn to bankruptcy,” she told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.


Free-trade agreements

Within the populist Democratic movement, there is a rising tide against once-popular trade deals connecting the U.S. with foreign lands. Clinton has been involved with many of the pacts from her time as first lady, in the Senate and finally, as part of the Obama administration.

Clinton saw herself in the middle of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during her husband’s presidency. She supported deals with Oman, Chile and Singapore during her tenure in the Senate. As secretary of State, she was a chief advocate as talks commenced surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the largest worldwide deals in recent history. 

Many proponents of the agreements argue that negotiations need to take place in secret in order to protect the fragile interests of participating countries. This has not sat well with public interest groups and more liberal members of the Democratic Party, including Warren.

Last year, she went to far as to vote against Obama’s then-nominee for the head of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, because of that lack of transparency as the 10 countries involved in the TPP discuss terms.

“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant,” she said in a floor speech. “In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”

At the State Department, Clinton didn’t address specifics in the negotiating process, but told attendees at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum conference that she hoped it would “create a new high standard for multilateral free trade.”

Critics have said that the agreement would ease regulations protecting both laborers and the environment, despite claims from Clinton to the contrary.

“Our goal for TPP is to create not just more growth, but better growth. We believe the TPP needs to include strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation,” Clinton said at the event in 2011. “It should also promote the free flow of information technology and the spread of green technology, as well as the coherence of our regulatory system and the efficiency of supply chains.”



Warren has long positioned herself as an adversary to large financial institutions, questioning why they hadn’t brought bankers who had been partially responsible for the financial downturn to trial. Last year, she introduced legislation that would reinstate Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking and was repealed during the Clinton administration. 

“We should not accept a financial system that allows the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while working Americans continue to struggle,” Warren said at an event in 2013.

The financial services industry fought against Warren’s idea of creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). It also made clear it would oppose any move to have her run the bureau.

Clinton, meanwhile, has been painted by critics as beholden to Wall Street, giving paid speeches at events sponsored by banking executives and maintaining ties with former officials who had been more laissez-faire with financial regulatory policy. As a senator from New York, bankers had been Clinton’s constituents and largest donors. 


Tags 2016 presidential election Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton

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