PITTSFIELD -- Demo cratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Scott Brown in a hard-fought campaign, declared on Monday that the survival of President Obama's health care reform law could be at stake.
During a campaign visit to The Eagle, Warren depicted the contest as reflecting a stark choice between continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for all, including the top 2 percent of taxpayers, or only for the 98 percent of earners and 97 percent of small businesses below $250,000 in annual earnings.
Asked whether the description of Obama and Democratic leaders as favoring the middle class versus Romney and other Republicans catering to the rich is really that simple, Warren replied, "yes," citing stated GOP policies supporting tax cuts for those at the top.
"President Obama and I are saying we've got to ask those at the top to pay a fair share," she said.
Warren cited billionaires such as Warren Buffett, who has acknowledged he should not be paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. "I don't know how anyone can defend that," Warren said. "We ask everyone to pay a fair share."
According to Warren, when Brown voted against a bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all except the top 2 percent of taxpayers, "he said he was willing to hold 98 percent of families hostage if the top 2 percent didn't get bigger tax breaks."
If the same bill comes before the Senate by Dec. 31 to avoid a plunge over the "fiscal cliff," Warren reiterated Brown's position when he told a radio interviewer his position would be "crystal clear," that he'd vote no and tax cuts would expire for everyone.
"Scott Brown has taken some good votes," she said, "but too much of the time, he's there for the millionaires and the billionaires and big oil. I want to go to Washington to fight for working families and small businesses, that's why I'm in this race."
On health care, she pointed out that the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare," builds on the Massachusetts health care reform law by offering many additional benefits that already have kicked in.
In addition to squeezing out fraud in the health care system, Warren said, studies to achieve "better health care outcomes at lower cost" are top priorities in the law that Brown, in support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Rom ney's position, has vowed to overturn.
"Massachusetts is the leader in doing those studies," she said. "This is our best hope. We've got to bring health care costs under control. It's good for us locally, good for the nation overall."
She acknowledged that there are changes that could improve the law, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last June as constitutional on the grounds that it falls under the taxing authority of Congress.
"The survival of those health care reforms is truly at issue," she said.
Warren's success at the polls on Nov. 6 is widely seen as crucial to maintaining Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.
"If the Republicans take control," she said, "it may be that [the Affordable Care Act] can be repealed with 51 votes. In other words, it's filibuster-proof."
She predicted that if the health care law is attached to the annual budget by a Republican Congress, Pres ident Obama, if he's re-elected, could find himself forced to sign the repeal.
"I do not want us to be there," she said, "but it's a strong reminder of what could be at stake in this Senate race."
She acknowledged that "Obamacare" remains unpopular nationally "because it has not been properly defended publicly, and the other side has just told one untruth after another about it. There's been a very concerted attack on health care reforms from the right, and not as vigorous a defense as we should have had of this law."
On other subjects during a wide-ranging discussion, Warr en asserted that investments in education, infrastructure and clean energy are vital to Berkshire County to keep it beautiful for residents and for the crucial tourism economy, as is the pending environmental cleanup of the Housatonic River from Pittsfield southward.
Those investments come from "a state that is on solid financial footing but it also comes from a federal government that wants to be a good partner to communities here in Massachusetts and all around the country."
Warren cited the gradual extension of broadband Internet access to all of the county as an example of a federal and state partnership to expand opportunities for small businesses "to come in, create more jobs so there's more here for young people to stay, and to keep the tourism industry competitive."
Brown has been invited to a similar discussion at The Eagle, but has not responded.
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In her own words
Among the points made by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren during a campaign visit to The Eagle on Monday:
On the differing party visions for the country: "It's based on the big vision of how to build a future, more so than any race we've seen in a long time. The Republican vision is pretty clear: Cut taxes for those at the top and let everybody pick up the pieces. The middle class would pay higher taxes, or cuts would be needed for spending in education, research and infrastructure, or let the deficit grow even more. It's math, as Bill Clinton said, just plain arithmetic. The Democratic vision is everybody pays a fair share, and then we make those investments that build the future, in public education, especially community colleges, which are critical to a trained workforce for the jobs of the future."
On the $64 million cost, so far, of the Massachusetts Senate campaign: "I have 50,000-plus donors here in the Commonwealth, and more than half of the donations are $25 or less; 82 percent are $50 or less. What has happened is that literally tens of thousands of people have made investments in this campaign because they get what's at stake is the direction the country goes. A big part of this is about a lot of people who've made $5 or $15 or $25 investments, I've never seen anything like it."