Correction appended Sept. 17 at 2:40 p.m.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and personal finance expert Suze Orman teamed up Wednesday morning for a spirited, hour-long discussion about student loans, for-profit colleges and the staggering debt crisis facing tens of millions of Americans today.
The two women, who first met at a 2009 TIME 100 event, clearly saw eye-to-eye on nearly every issue, surprising absolutely no one, anywhere. They often echoed one another in their condemnation of “the biggest banks,” “the crooks” selling exploitative student loans, and corporate control over the lawmaking process.
“Washington works for those who have money and power, for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” Warren said.
“Private banks are financially raping—and I use that word truthfully—raping our children,” Orman said. “It’s ludicrous.”
The question of whether Warren will run for president in 2016 was defused right off the bat, when Orman jokingly announced her own candidacy. Warren remained silent on the issue throughout the panel discussion, hosted by Politico and Starbucks in downtown Washington, D.C., choosing instead to draw attention to her student loan reform bill, which was blocked by a Republican filibuster in June.
The bill would require the federal government and private banks to allow the roughly 25 million Americans, each of whom carry an average of $30,000 in student debt, to refinance their student loans at today’s lower interest rates. It would also cap undergraduate loans at interest rates below 4%. The current interest rate for federal Stafford student loans is as high as 8%; private loan rates often top 14%.
Warren and Orman argued that since Americans collectively carry more than $1.2 trillion in student debt alone—a sum that doesn’t take into account mortgages or other personal debt—they cannot buy houses or cars or make other purchases that would stimulate the economy. Senate Republicans blocked another effort to bring the bill to vote on Tuesday. Warren promised Wednesday to “keep hitting at” it this term.
Both Warren and Orman pointed out repeatedly that student loans, unlike any other type of loan, cannot be forgiven under any circumstances, including bankruptcy or death. Those carrying student debt through retirement “will have their social security garnished,” Orman said, as an appalled Warren echoed her: “Your social security check gets garnished!” Americans who die with student loans often pass on that debt to surviving family members.
One of the challenges in passing the student loan reform bill, Warren said, is that the U.S. government mades $66 billion between 2007 and 2012 off of the interest from federally-backed student loans. Her bill would reduce that profit substantially, but proposes making up the difference through a stipulation in the tax code requiring that those making more than a million dollars per year pay taxes at the same rate middle class families pay, she said.
Toward the end of the discussion, the moderators, Politico’s Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman, changed the topic to the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections. Orman said that while she would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she would much prefer to vote for Warren, who she described as her “political voice.” Warren smiled but didn’t respond.
Allen later asked Warren who her favorite Republican is, to which Warren quickly answered, much to the delight of the crowd, “Living or dead?” When Allen pressed her to come up with her favorite living Republican, Warren suggested Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who voted to advance debate of the student loan reform bill and is working on housing finance reform.
Allen later asked Warren what her reaction would be if Republicans win the majority in the Senate in November, and Mitch McConnell, who is facing a tight race in Kentucky, succeeds and rises to Senate majority leader. “I’ll be blunt,” Warren said. “I hope that he doesn’t come back.”
In one of the final questions, Haberman asked Warren which Republican she would like to see run in 2016. Warren just laughed. “No,” she said. “No.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said that Sen. Bob Corker voted for the loan reform bill. He voted to advance debate of the bill.
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