The Progressive Bowl: Cantwell, Not Warren, Is Senate's Super Populist

Forget Sherman vs. Brady. In my book it's Cantwell vs. Warren.

By Josh Feit January 27, 2015

I've been trying to find a Seahawks angle. Sure, I've been posting on  Mayor Ed Murray's cozy box seats and former Metro bus driver George Hickey's questions about those Metro bus reader board giveaways to the Hawks. But I wanted a legit Seattle vs. New England post. 

Forget Richard Sherman vs. Tom Brady. This Sunday's big game has given me the opportunity to sound off about one of my pet peeves: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). 

Or more specifically, why is the senator from Hah-vahd—and not the senator from Edmonds—considered the Democrats' populist standard bearer?

The media was aflutter over last week's news that working class hero Sen. Warren was training her righteous populist politics on a new corporate villain. Sen. Warren has already established herself as a warrior against the oligarchs of Wall Street. And now, to cheers from Warren's followers, here she was taking on the pharmaceutical industry. Running with the graphic above, Wonkette, for example, cheered Warren's "kicking ass" approach and her "Class Warrior" plan, which goes after law-breaking pharmaceutical companies by making them pay into public NIH research funds.

If I may (and especially because it feels like a particularly good time to deflate the Sen. from New England), Washington state's own Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was going after big pharma years ago.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell

Way back in 2009, in addition to pushing a single-payer option to Obama's nascent health care proposal, Sen. Cantwell tacked on an amendment to regulate so-called PBMs, Pharmaceutical Benefit Management companies. Inking side deals with pharma companies, PBMs are the middle-men between doctors and drug manufacturers that deftly get doctors to write scrips that kick back undisclosed profits to PBMs. So, while Sen. Warren's flashy bill levies punitive fines, it's more of a band aid than Cantwell's corrective prescription, which got into the details of the rigged system.

Sen. Cantwell's bill passed; we'll see how far Warren's gets. 

I've got a message in to Team Cantwell about any proposals the populist senator's got in play to protect the public against a deflationary spiral.  Cantwell in fact, has been way ahead of the curve on the current populist politics that rank and file Democrats currently see as Sen. Warren's elixir for their party.

It was actually Sen. Cantwell, all through 2009 and 2010—voting against the bank bail outs; withholding her vote from Obama's Wall Street reform bill because she wanted stronger reforms on derivatives; introducing Glass-Steagall to keep commercial and investment banks separate; flambéing Obama's treasury secretary Timothy Geithner over his status quo responses to the Wall Street malfeasance—who's been nudging the Democratic Party to the left with some Almanac Singers populism for years.

While Sen. Warren is a by-product of the Occupy movement, Sen. Cantwell actually presaged it; her 2010 demand to reinstate Glass-Steagall, in fact, became one of Occupy's only tangible demands.

No wonder, Warren followed Sen. Cantwell's lead again this year when Cantwell was just one of four senators (Warren, socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and iconoclast Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were the others) voting against a patriotic anti-terrorism bill that slyly slipped in a provision to roll back Wall Street reforms.

Sen. Cantwell also broke ranks (21 Democrats voting Nay vs. 31 Democrats, including Cantwell's Washington colleague U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, voting Yea) by voting against last year's omnibus spending bill because it too rolled back provisions of 2010's Wall Street reform bill, known as Dodd-Frank. (Warren joined Cantwell in the minority again.)

Back in October 2011, when the Occupy protests first erupted, I asked Sen. Cantwell for her take on the movement. Her spokesman Jared Leopold said at the time: "Main Street continues to pay the price for Wall Street’s risky business. Senator Cantwell believes we cannot allow Wall Street’s shenanigans to take down our economy again. She continues to fight for more transparency in the derivatives markets, ending ‘too big to fail’ and separating commercial from investment banking."

And from the senator herself, in a lengthy interview back in 2010 when Obama was rolling out his team's (in Cantwell's opinon) inadquate version of Wall Street reform: 

PubliCola: Do you have anything nice to say about [Obama treasury secretary] Tim Geithner?

Sen. Cantwell: Well, I think, [pause] um [long pause] … I think the Treasury Secretary is, um [very long pause] ….  um …  earnest, in saying at hearings that he wants to work on getting capital to small business, but I don’t know that he understands the urgency of it.

I've got a message in to Team Cantwell about any proposals the populist senator's got in play to protect the public against a deflationary spiral. 



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