Issue Position: Leveling the Economic Playing Field
Corporate profits and CEO pay are near record highs. But workers' wages have barely budged for a generation, and, one after another, workers' rights are getting wiped away. Unions are under attack. Millions of people are struggling to piece together multiple jobs just to pay the rent.
I've spent my career fighting to level the playing field for working families in America. As a U.S. Senator, I'm working hard to build an economy that works for everyone.
An economy that works for working Americans
When I was 12, my daddy had a heart attack. The bills piled up, we lost the family station wagon, and we nearly lost our home. But my mother went out and got a job answering the phones at Sears. That job paid minimum wage -- and it saved our home and our family.
Today, minimum wage doesn't pay enough to keep a mom and a baby out of poverty. Building an economy that works for working people begins with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. No one who works full-time should live in poverty.
But that's just the beginning. We need to protect the rights of working people to organize for better wages and fairer treatment in the workplace. Unions don't just increase wages for union members -- they increase wages for all workers. We need to enforce the labor laws already on the books, to make sure safety is a top priority in the workplace, to protect workers from having their wages stolen by their employers, and to make sure those who work overtime are getting the pay they deserve.
In addition, we must do more to help Americans balance work and family obligations by making affordable child care a reality for every worker -- and making paid family and medical leave a guarantee for every worker. Taking a little time off to care for a newborn or a sick loved one shouldn't spell financial ruin. I led the fight to double child care funding in the FY 2018 budget bill, allowing 230,000 more children to get care while their parents work. In addition, I've introduced legislation that would add some basic fairness to workplace scheduling.
As our economy changes, with more and more people participating in the "gig economy" where they don't have a single, full-time employer, we need to make sure our laws promote economic security for everyone. It's time to re-think the basic bargain for workers in the 21st century, so that all workers -- full-time, part-time, and gig -- have access to basic benefits.
Equal pay for equal work
I can't believe I have to say this in 2018: Women deserve equal pay for equal work. But in nearly all occupations, men continue to make more than women. That's not an accident -- that's discrimination. The pay gap is even worse for women of color. In the Greater Boston area, the pay gap between white men on the one hand, and black and Latina women on the other, is about twice as large as the pay gap between white men and white women. Today, women are the main breadwinners, or joint breadwinners, in two-thirds of families in America. We need to end pay discrimination and empower women in the workplace. No woman should be fired just for asking how much the guy down the hall makes for doing the same job. It's past time for paycheck fairness.
A new approach to trade policy
Trade is vitally important to our economy. But for far too long, America's trade policy has been designed and implemented not for American workers, manufacturers, or consumers, but instead for the principal benefit of giant multinational corporations with little connection to our borders and even less investment in our people. These giant companies have used their enormous influence on both sides of the negotiating table to ensure that they come out winners in the agreements we sign. Meanwhile, everyone else gets left out and left behind.
We need a new approach to trade. For starters, the process by which our government negotiates trade agreements needs to be more open and more transparent. Labor unions, environmental groups, and working families must have a real seat at the table and a real voice in the negotiations. That did not happen in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement I opposed.
We need a comprehensive trade agenda that benefits workers, manufacturers, consumers, and small businesses. Tariffs can be a part of that agenda, but imposing tariffs at the drop of a hat and starting a trade war with China with no plan will only harm our country's workers, consumers, and farmers. And we need to maintain our strong relationships with allies as we pursue that agenda.
We also need to change how we enforce existing trade agreements so that our trade partners abide by higher labor and environmental standards. The TPP, for instance, allows corporations to challenge laws they dislike before arbitration panels, but environmental, labor, and human-rights advocates have no similar recourse. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), of which our country is part, spurred companies to send jobs out of the United States because of Mexico's lower environmental and labor standards. And we need to get rid of the loopholes and giveaways that tilt the playing field away from small businesses in favor of giant corporations.
Tax reform that levels the playing field
In the early 1950s, taxes from corporations paid for about one-third of the cost of running our government. Today, it's less than 10 percent. Years of tax policy designed to benefit big business has left working families stuck with the tab when it comes to our infrastructure, our military, and all the investments we make in our country's future.
The biggest, richest, most powerful corporations in America need to pay their fair share, so that our country can make the kinds of investments we need to keep our economy and our country strong.
Our tax system is loaded with loopholes and carve-outs and exemptions. Many of them were put there by lobbyists working for the big corporations and Wall Street CEOs who use them to avoid paying their fair share. When you include these credits and deductions and loopholes, the average corporation's tax rate has been about 20 percent--less than the corporate tax rates of three-quarters of all developed nations. And some of the biggest corporations have managed to dodge all federal income taxes by using sophisticated tricks unavailable to families and small businesses. If we want to make our tax system fairer, we have to get rid of the special breaks that big corporations use to get a leg up on smaller competitors -- especially those that encourage them to ship jobs and investments overseas.
Unfortunately, the tax bill recently signed into law by President Trump only makes the problems in our tax system worse. Rammed through Congress with almost no debate or careful analysis -- Republicans were even hand-writing barely legible changes in the margins at the very last moment -- the new tax law is more or less a huge giveaway to those who are already benefiting from having the playing field tilted in their favor.
This isn't how we should be making laws in America -- and it certainly isn't the kind of real reform families and small businesses need. We need to undo this disaster and start making progress on real tax reform. I've worked to protect and extend tax credits that hundreds of thousands of families in Massachusetts rely on -- including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit -- and I'll keep fighting for tax cuts and credits for working Americans.
Supporting small businesses
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. I learned about small businesses--and hard work--early in my life. When I was 13, I started waiting tables at my Aunt Alice's restaurant. I spent summers and holidays working for her, and I saw firsthand the kind of commitment and energy it takes to launch a small business and to keep it going.
It was that same kind of determination that drove my brother David to start a small business when he got out of the military. And when that one didn't work out, he started another one. Because he couldn't imagine a world where he wasn't living by his wits every day.
In Massachusetts alone, small businesses employ 1.4 million people -- that's more than 46 percent of all private sector workers in the Commonwealth. The idea that anyone with a great idea and the right skills can step up and have a shot at success is central to the American story.
But today it is harder and harder for small businesses to succeed because the biggest corporations in America are increasingly squeezing them out of business and rigging the rules in Washington to benefit themselves. We must enforce our antitrust laws so small businesses can compete on a level playing field.
Since I've come to the Senate, I've also worked to support small businesses in Massachusetts and help give them a voice in Washington. I've hosted four Massachusetts Business Matchmakers, in Roxbury, Lowell, Framingham, and Worcester. These events are a chance for small businesses to join federal agencies and prime contractors to explore opportunities to do business with the federal government.
I believe we need to make our tax system fairer so small businesses can compete with the big guys. A tech start-up in Boston or Worcester isn't transferring its money to a foreign tax haven. Cranberry growers on the South Shore and dairy farmers in Shelbourne don't have fancy lawyers and accountants to set up a "reverse hybrid mismatch" to lower their tax bill. Our tax system shouldn't give powerful corporations a special advantage at the expense of all other businesses.
As Senator, I'm committed to supporting local entrepreneurs and business owners by expanding their access to capital, helping them get technical assistance, and giving them more opportunities to compete for federal contracts.
Standing up for Bay State fishermen
I'm proud to represent a state with a long tradition of fishing. Whether I'm in Gloucester, New Bedford, Cape Cod, or Boston, the fishermen I talk to are hardworking people who want to do their job right, put food on their tables, and provide their kids with opportunity -- including the opportunity to carry forward the family fishing tradition.
Our fishermen face many challenges. Some of those challenges come with the job -- like the threat of environmental change and weather-related disasters. My first piece of legislation in the Senate was a bipartisan amendment with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to secure funding for fisheries disaster relief -- in the end, I was able to bring home $14.5 million for Massachusetts fishermen, as well as help convince the Department of Commerce to waive a requirement for state matching funds so that fishermen could qualify for disaster aid more easily.
Still, there's no denying that, far too often, the federal government makes our fishermen's jobs harder. Burdensome regulation and unfair enforcement have been hammering Massachusetts fishermen for years. And it has to change.
We need to protect sustainable fishing stocks, but we don't need, and can't afford, unnecessary regulations that just drive fishermen out of business. I believe that regulators need to do a better job of listening to, and working with, fishermen and scientists to achieve everyone's shared goals. And Massachusetts' fisherman can count on me to stand up for them in Washington.
Putting consumers first -- and holding Wall Street accountable
The 2008 financial crisis cost millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their life savings. But that crisis was no accident, no act of God. It was caused by Wall Street greed, plain and simple. And it will happen again if we let it.
After the crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act, putting in place tough new rules to rein in the big banks' risky behavior and reduce the likelihood that we'd ever go through another financial meltdown.
One important piece of that legislation was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a new watchdog with one mission: protecting consumers from the tricks and traps big banks use to rip them off when they sign up for credit cards, mortgages, checking accounts, and other financial products. That agency has now returned about $12 billion directly to nearly 30 million consumers who were cheated, handled more than a million consumer complaints, and created new rules for mortgages, credit cards, checking accounts, prepaid cards and payday loans. I helped develop the idea of the CFPB, then fought for it to be included in the Dodd-Frank Act. When it passed, I headed to Washington to set up the Bureau.
Dodd-Frank was a good first step. But ten years after the crisis, we have more work to do make our financial system and our economy safer. This starts with greater accountability for Wall Street banks and their executives. Despite the massive fraud that occurred in the lead-up to the financial crisis, not one big bank CEO or senior executive has faced jail time. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I've worked to hold big bank CEOs accountable. This includes executives at Wells Fargo, which was caught opening up millions of fake accounts and costing customers millions of dollars in fees. After I took on the CEO of Wells Fargo, he resigned and was forced to surrender $41 million in stock and salary. And after I pressed her repeatedly to do so, former Fed Chair Janet Yellen held Wells Fargo board members accountable and pushed out several who were responsible for failing to prevent its fake accounts scam.
I've also fought to protect consumers in the wake of the massive data breach at Equifax, which compromised personal information on more than 145 million Americans. Shortly after Equifax disclosed the breach, I introduced a bill to give Americans unlimited free credit freezes so they could protect their data without paying endless fees. The Senate Banking Committee subsequently approved legislation providing unlimited free freezes. I also launched a five-month investigation into the Equifax breach, which revealed that Equifax had not fully disclosed the types of information that had been compromised in the breach. And I introduced legislation to ensure that companies like Equifax would pay significant, automatic penalties if they let personal information get stolen again.
We also need systemic changes to prevent the kind of risky actions by big banks that played a role in bringing down our economy. I've introduced the 21st-Century Glass-Steagall Act, a bipartisan bill that would put a wall between high-risk investment banking and basic, boring banking -- the checking and savings accounts families rely on. Leading a bipartisan effort, I successfully pressured the Federal Reserve to adopt tough new rules to prevent future bailouts of Wall Street firms like AIG and Citigroup. And I exposed industry-sponsored "experts" who were trying to let the financial industry write its own rules for how it deals with Americans' retirement savings.
But the Trump Administration seems set on going in the other direction, loosening the reins on Wall Street. I'm focused on protecting the progress we've made, starting with stopping President Trump from gutting the CFPB -- which he attempted to do by trying to install his OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, at the helm. Mulvaney moved aggressively to scale back the CFPB's work to protect consumers, and then President Trump nominated Mulvaney's protégé, Kathy Kraninger, to lead the agency. Kraninger not only has no experience protecting consumers from predatory institutions, but she also helped oversee the agencies responsible for tearing kids from their parents at the border. And whether it's pushing for new protections for homeowners and borrowers or demanding real accountability for miscreants like the guys who ran Wells Fargo, working across the aisle to limit compensation for executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or exposing a propaganda effort from Wall Street and the energy industry to let prices on oil and gas skyrocket, I'm going to keep fighting to hold Wall Street more accountable and to make our financial system safer.
Affordable housing and homeowner protections
Lots of Americans dream of owning their own home, which under the right circumstances can be a critical investment in the future. But predatory practices in the lending industry and the volatility of the housing market have turned homeownership into an impossible dream, or even a nightmare, for far too many.
That's why I've made it a priority to help struggling seniors, veterans, and others avoid foreclosure by helping more people living on fixed incomes get access to loan modification programs. I've also pushed to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that more working families can find an affordable mortgage.
Protecting homeowners from flood insurance rate hikes
Massachusetts' homeowners faced sudden and dramatic increases in flood insurance premiums -- in some cases, well over 100 percent hikes. I refused to let that happen, and I worked with my colleagues to pass the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, repealing or reducing many of the rate increases to ensure that Bay State homeowners continued to have access to affordable flood insurance -- and peace of mind in case the worst should happen.
No one knows what the next great business will be. No one knows who will build the next great business. But we're all pretty sure that the next great business will need to plug in. The next great business will need roads, rail, and transit for its employees to get to work. The next great business will need clean water systems and access to a communications network.
America needs to start investing in our infrastructure again: in roads, bridges, mass transit, an efficient power grid, and high-speed Internet. We know that investing in infrastructure supports good construction jobs and creates the conditions for our economy to grow in the long term.
But right now, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the United States a D+ for infrastructure. This is not a one-time blip. This country has systematically under invested in infrastructure for decades now. And ASCE says this underinvestment will cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion in business sales and 2.5 million jobs by 2025.
President Trump's infrastructure proposal doesn't take any serious steps to fix this problem. It's a smoke-and-mirrors plan that doesn't actually invest any new money in building anything. In fact, it makes things worse by pushing most of the financial burden onto cash-strapped cities and towns, by encouraging toll increases, and by slashing funding from other key economic development programs.
Instead, Congress should pass an infrastructure package that includes new, significant federal funding and that provides good wages and strong labor protections for the jobs it supports.
Funding critical infrastructure priorities
Part of my job is making sure Massachusetts gets its fair share of funding to help rebuild bridges, advance mass transit, and improve our harbors. In my first term, I was proud to secure a variety of investments for Bay State infrastructure, including $216 million in funding for the dredging of Boston Harbor, $13.4 million for repairing and replacing bridges in Lowell, and $400 million for the MBTA Green Line extension.
The impact of these investments is enormous: The Army Corps of Engineers projects that for every $1 spent on Boston Harbor construction, there will be nearly $9 in increased economic activity, resulting in a $2.7 billion economic benefit for the entire New England region. And the 4.3 mile extension of the MBTA Green Line aims to improve mobility and regional access for residents of Somerville and Medford, two densely populated cities underserved by the MBTA relative to their population density, commercial importance, and proximity to Boston. This investment is expected to create thousands of jobs and substantially increase economic development.
Net neutrality and digital privacy
When the Trump Administration eliminated net neutrality protections, big telecom company CEOs popped champagne bottles. That decision could give them the power to block access, filter content, and charge you more.
I don't know who's going to have the next big idea in this country, but I'm pretty sure they're going to need to get online to do it. Giant corporations shouldn't be able to pick winners and losers in America. We need to defend the principle of net neutrality for the sake of competition -- and for the sake of consumers.
We also need to fight back against recent efforts to destroy your privacy rights online. This year, Republicans passed a bill that would allow your internet service provider not just to monitor your online activity, but to sell it and your personal information for profit. Americans wouldn't tolerate such an invasion of privacy from their government, and we shouldn't tolerate it from these powerful corporations, either. We need to restore not just these protections, but an overall consumer-first approach to regulation in the telecom sector.
Defending our democracy
Our government is supposed to work for all Americans, no matter how rich or powerful. But because of weak laws on big money in politics and court cases like Citizens United, money slithers through Washington like a snake. Wealthy individuals and big corporations pump unlimited sums of dark money into campaigns. High-paid lobbyists flood the halls of Congress to make sure elected officials work for industry. And at agency after agency, a revolving door between industry and government often leaves the foxes guarding the chicken coop. That broken system is great for those already in power. But for everyone else, Washington isn't working.
During my first campaign to represent Massachusetts in the Senate in 2012, my opponent Scott Brown and I developed the People's Pledge -- an agreement to stop outside groups' spending in our campaign. We agreed that if outside groups spent money attacking either of us, the candidate who benefited would pay a penalty to charity out of their campaign account. The People's Pledge worked at keeping outside money from flooding the airwaves, but it was only necessary because the law doesn't already prevent dark money from interfering with America's elections.
Since becoming a Senator, I've worked to fix Washington's broken system. I've introduced legislation to require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose and divest of any financial interests that posed a conflict between their public duties and their pocketbooks, and I've cosponsored bills to improve disclosures of political contributions, restrict lobbying, and help close the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. I've also worked to expand voting protections to ensure that all Americans have an equal say in our democracy.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is going in exactly the opposite direction. The President has filled federal agencies with industry insiders and corporate lobbyists, and his Administration is working to make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote, pushing voter ID laws and other voting restrictions that discriminate against voters of color, the elderly, the disabled, and other marginalized groups.
It's long past time we took a stand for our democracy. We need to strengthen restrictions on political donations and overturn Citizens United so that government can start working for the American people. We need to crack down on the influence of lobbyists and slam the revolving door between government and industry shut once and for all. And we must pass, defend, and enforce laws that protect the right to vote.
Promoting competition in our markets
In industry after industry -- airlines, banking, health care, agriculture, tech -- a handful of corporate giants control more and more and more. The big guys are locking out smaller, newer competitors. They are crushing innovation. Even if you don't see the gears turning, this massive concentration means prices go up and quality goes down for everything from air travel to internet service.
Massive concentration also means massive political influence. Giant companies can use their economic power to spend unlimited sums of money electing and manipulating politicians who will do their bidding. This kind of power perverts our economy and undermines our democracy.
Once upon a time, Americans fought for strong antitrust enforcement that helped to increase consumer choice, keep doors open for new competitors, help small businesses grow, and make our economy and our democracy fairer and stronger. It's time for us to do it again by standing up to mergers that reduce competition and demanding that agencies charged with antitrust enforcement do their job.
Making sure our first responders have the resources they need
Our first responders put their lives on the line for us every day -- and they deserve the funding they need to do their jobs safely and well. That's why, working with the rest of our congressional delegation, I've brought home more than $100 million for fire departments across the Commonwealth.