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Sen. Warren Explains Why She Voted Against Stimulus Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump expressed an opinion yesterday about how companies would use the money from the aid bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do not want stock buybacks. I don't want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus.

INSKEEP: In this, the president sounds a little like Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. The former presidential candidate is back at work and called us yesterday to say she is among those urging stricter controls in the bill.

ELIZABETH WARREN: You can't just take $450 billion, hand it over to the secretary of treasury and, say, hand it out to your closest friends on a no-strings-attached basis. No, there has to be strings. The taxpayer has a right to know that if the Trump administration wants to hand out $450 billion in a bailout to giant corporations, then by golly, they have a right to know that that money is going to help workers, not to increase executives' compensation or to boost returns to shareholders. That's a big difference.

INSKEEP: If I'm not mistaken, you're referring to a fund to help distressed companies. And of course, just about every company is, in some way or another, distressed at this point. The bill has changed so much in the past couple of days that I'm not sure many members of the public understand what's in it. How is that fund structured now, as best you understand - and how should it be structured?

WARREN: Well, the fund, as it stands right now, has no meaningful requirement that companies maintain payroll or benefits for their employees, no serious restrictions on stock buybacks, no requirements to reduce executive pay and no ongoing oversight. You know, in fact, as you read this, it sounds like Trump hotel properties, like Mar-a-Lago, could receive huge bags of cash and then fire their workers if Steve Mnuchin decides he wants to do a real solid for his boss using taxpayer dollars.

So look - I saw up close and personal what the consequences were in 2008 when Congress didn't put enough restrictions on bailout money. And the current Trump proposal is far worse than the worst critique of Bush's 2008 bank bailout.

INSKEEP: Is this circumstance, Senator, a little different than the financial crisis, though, in that in 2008, lawmakers were voting to bailout companies that could be blamed for the crisis? It's hard to argue that corporations are to blame for the rescue that they need now.

WARREN: Oh, fair enough. I don't think anyone thinks that the airline industry, for example, is to blame for what has happened. But on the other hand, if they want to get taxpayer dollars, then we need to know that those taxpayer dollars are going to be spent in a way that helps the economy generally instead of a handful of executives and investors.

So I put out a list of things that we should see before we invest taxpayer dollars, like that companies must maintain their payrolls and use the funds to either keep people working or help keep them on payroll, and that companies will be prohibited from engaging in share repurchases or that they'll be prohibited from paying out dividends or executive bonuses while receiving any relief for three - the time during they have the money and three years after that. You know, collective bargaining agreements should stay in place. In other words, we need to make sure the money is going to help workers.

INSKEEP: If you don't get those provisions, Senator, are you willing to go so far as to say, better to have no bill at all, better to have the economy go down in flames?

WARREN: Look - that is not the alternative. I think you put this in - it's a false choice. The alternative is to say to the Republicans, if you really want to give Treasury a half a trillion dollars nearly to be able to hand out to giant corporations, then the American taxpayer has a right to know where that money goes.

INSKEEP: On some level, Senator, that is the alternative, though, right? If you have a question of power here - of one side backing down or the other, do you need to be willing to make that statement, that you're willing to have the bill fail entirely unless you have these provisions - that you consider them that vital?

WARREN: Well, I see it the other way around. Why would Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump be so resistant to saying that executives can't dip into taxpayer dollars in order to enrich themselves with bonuses and high salaries? Why would they be so resistant to that?

INSKEEP: Senator Elizabeth Warren, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

WARREN: Always good to talk to you, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.