Neck and neck

Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks housing crisis, child care and economic instability

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks to the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco in June.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks to the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco in June.


After two rounds of the 2020 Democratic Party debates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has risen to the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. Indeed, in a Monmouth University poll released on Monday (Aug. 26), Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders were tied in the top spot (20 percent of voters), followed by former Vice President Joe Biden (19 percent).

Warren is spending quite a bit of time in California, which moved up its primary from June to March 3 to have a louder voice, and in Nevada, whose caucuses on Feb. 22 are the third nominating contests on the calendar. She was in Los Angeles last week, and is scheduled to be in San Francisco early next month for a town hall event on climate change. The second-term senator’s mantra is that she has a plan for everything—health care, criminal justice and, following two recent mass shootings, gun violence.

She’s quite busy running for president, but carved a few minutes out of her schedule earlier this month to speak with Brad Bynum, editor of the Reno News & Review, CN&R’s sister paper, during a campaign visit to Nevada. Here are some excerpts of their conversation.

Is [the housing crisis] a problem the federal government should help with? And if so, how?

Half a century ago, there were two ways that housing was produced for middle-class, working-class, working-poor, poor-poor people—and that was private development and the federal government. The private developers that built the two-bedroom, one-bath house that I grew up in—the garage converted to house my three brothers—they’re not building those anymore. … The second [thing] that’s happened is that the federal government has largely withdrawn from building affordable housing.

I will build 3.2 million new housing units across this country—it’s housing for middle-class families, for working families, for the working poor, for the homeless, for seniors who want to age in place, for people with disabilities. We need more housing—a lot more housing. And the federal government can make that happen.

You unveiled a huge universal child care program. How’s it going to be funded?

The universal child care is funded by a 2-cent tax on the largest fortunes in this country. So on fortunes above $50 million. … That will generate enough revenue to pay for child care for every baby in this country age zero to 5, preschool for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old, raise the wages of every child care worker and preschool worker in this country, and cover the costs of college, add $50 billion to historically black colleges and universities, and cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the kids who have it. …

And here’s the thing: It could do all those things I described and there would still be a couple of hundred billion left over.

Are you concerned that Trump and the previous Congress have set us up for a financial crisis like we had in 2008, by having rolled back Obama-era protections, like Dodd-Frank?

I’m very worried. Because the Trump administration has weakened regulations, has refused to enforce the regulations that are still in place, and the warning signs are growing around the economy. The number of small business loans that are in default are through the roof. That should be a red flashing light for this economy. [If] small businesses can’t service their debt, then they’re not going to be long for this world, and if they start falling like dominoes, it’s going to be a real problem for this economy.

Leading up to the last Democratic debate, a lot of the buzz and promotion was Warren versus Bernie Sanders. So what is a key major policy difference between you and Sen. Sanders?

I’m not here to try to define somebody else’s policy. I can tell you what I’m fighting for. The best part of these debates is when we get a chance to do that. We have an America that works great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top, and it’s not working for much of anyone else. Our government in Washington has been captured by money. And it’s far more than just political contributions. It’s lobbyists, bought-and-paid-for experts, think tanks. Washington is flooded with money, and every decision that gets made there is influenced by that money. And day by day, decision by decision, the government does just a little bit more in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected and against everyone else. I believe we can turn that around. I believe we can make this government work, not just for those at the top, but make it work for everyone.