Elizabeth Warren, who spent decades as a bankruptcy law professor before becoming a U.S. senator, introduced her long-awaited plan to fix the country's bankruptcy system on Tuesday and reignited a 15-year-old fight with former Vice President Joe Biden, one of her rivals in the Democratic Party's presidential primary race.
Warren's first foray into national politics was not her 2012 campaign to represent the people of Massachusetts in the Senate; it was in 1995, when she was asked to advise the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. She spent the next 10 years fighting—ultimately unsuccessfully—against what would become the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.
The 2005 bill, which was backed by banks and credit card companies, is a key target of Warren's new plan. Several political observers and Warren supporters suggested Tuesday that Biden—who voted in favor of the legislation as a senator representing Delaware, a state that is notoriously home to many large financial institutions—is also in Warren's crosshairs.
Senate footage regarding the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill. Then-professor Warren (US Bankruptcy expert) debates Sen. Biden over who the bill serves.
Biden was the most vocal Dem to support this bill, most Dems — like Obama — voted no.
Warren serves the people, Biden serves the banks. pic.twitter.com/y9FVVtBbAM
— Adam Koenig (@KoenigAdam) January 7, 2020
Warren unveiled the bankruptcy reform proposal in a Medium post that acknowledges the battle she lost in 2005, for which "working families paid the price." She also detailed what she has done since then to hold the financial industry accountable, and what she believes still needs to be done.
"There are still serious problems with our bankruptcy laws today, thanks in large part to that bad 2005 bill," Warren wrote. "That's why I'm announcing my plan to repeal the harmful provisions in the 2005 bankruptcy bill and overhaul consumer bankruptcy rules in this country to give Americans a better chance of getting back on their feet."
A Warren administration, she explained, would work to:
- Make it easier for people being crushed by debt to obtain relief through bankruptcy;
- Expand people's rights to take care of themselves and their children while they are in the bankruptcy process;
- End the absurd rules that make it nearly impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy;
- Let more people protect their homes and cars in bankruptcy so they can start from a firm foundation when they start to pick up the pieces and rebuild their financial lives;
- Help address shameful racial and gender disparities that plague our bankruptcy system; and
- Close loopholes that allow the wealthy and corporate creditors to abuse the bankruptcy system at the expense of everyone else.
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With this new proposal, Warren is "revisiting one of the most pivotal moments in her early public life right as her presidential campaign appears to be faltering," Sarah Jones wrote Tuesday for Intelligencer.
According to Jones:
The plan is peak Warren. It's a savvy callback to her record as a consumer advocate, and highlights her familiar technocratic spin on progressive issues. For these reasons, the plan may be understood as an attempt by Warren to distinguish herself from Bernie Sanders, the only primary candidate to her left. She and Sanders have refrained from criticizing each other directly on the campaign trail. But the Warren campaign has had a difficult few weeks: Her fundraising slowed significantly last quarter, and her totals lagged far behind Sanders's, as well as Biden and Pete Buttigieg's. In a new Monmouth poll of voters who say they prioritize progressive positions, Sanders leads Warren by 18 points. As Sanders surges, Warren finds herself obligated to set herself apart from the Vermont senator in nonconfrontational ways. Highlighting her background on bankruptcy reform is one way to fulfill that objective.
But the Warren plan is chiefly Biden bait. Though she doesn't mention Biden by name, the former vice president is clearly in her sights.
David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, concurred with Jones Tuesday.
"In the critical final month before caucuses open in Iowa," he wrote, "Warren has released a bankruptcy plan that, though it doesn't mention Biden by name, is designed to challenge his record of selling out working families in the name of financial interests."
Moments ago, Elizabeth Warren released a plan to overhaul the bankruptcy code that's really a plan to highlight Joe Biden's relentless commitment to fattening the wallets of banking interests in Delaware https://t.co/h84XJkvuRr
— David Dayen (@ddayen) January 7, 2020
"While Warren avoided a frontal assault on Biden, putting out a bankruptcy plan right now, and framing it as repealing the worst of the 2005 law, is functionally the same tactic," Dayen argued, pointing to a statement Tuesday from Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee aligned with Warren.
Green—unlike Warren—did mention Biden by name in his response to her latest plan.
"When thinking about electability, it would be complete malpractice to nominate someone who conspired in backrooms for years with credit card lobbyists and voted for every corporate bankruptcy bill, Wall Street deregulation, and trade deal that voters hate," Green said. "Biden would ironically cede the outsider mantle to a corrupt incumbent president."
While Warren's plan was registered as a thinly veiled swipe at Biden Tuesday, the New York Times noted that she did directly call him out for backing the bankruptcy bill when he officially entered the presidential primary race.
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) April 27, 2019
"Our disagreement is a matter of public record," Warren said in April 2019. "At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families who were in bankruptcy because of medical problems, job losses, divorce, and death in the family, there was nobody to stand up for them. I got in that fight because they just didn't have anyone, and Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies. It's all a matter of public record."