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Sen. Warren sides with loan-strapped students over billionaires as 2016 draft begins

Bloomberg

A day after a group formed to draft Elizabeth Warren to seek the 2016 presidential nomination, the Massachusetts senator riled up student activists with a speech on her bill that would let them refinance loans at lower rates.

The legislation would be paid for by raising income taxes on those making more than $1 million a year and would help about half of those at the Make Progress National Summit, as measured by a show of hands from the attendees with debt.

“This really does boil down to three words: Billionaires or students?” Warren said at the Washington conference. “We have to jump in now and make our own change.”

Warren has repeatedly said she’s not seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 and she has urged former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to get into the race.

Even so, party activists drawn to Warren’s economic-populist messages Tuesday started the website Ready4Warren.com. to press her to get into the primary.

“It’s time that the American people had a lobbyist of our own, and that lobbyist is Elizabeth Warren,” according to the website. “By standing up to Wall Street to defend Main Street, Warren has proven herself to be the spine that the Democratic Party forgot it had.”

The organization is run by Erica Sagrans, who told the Boston Globe that the group is organizing a show of support for Warren when she speaks on Friday in Detroit to Netroots Nation, another gathering of party activists.

Wednesday’s event is sponsored by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, and organizers said it’s the largest in the conference’s 10-year history with about 1,000 people signing up to attend.

As Warren took the stage, some in the audience stood to cheer and took out their smart phones to take photos of her. “I love her passion,” said Jessica Bowen, 25, a Georgetown University student.

Bowen said she hasn’t heard anyone at the conference talking about Clinton, who leads the polls for a 2016 presidential nominee.

Warren’s student-loan legislation was blocked in the U.S. Senate by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, whose party led a filibuster of the bill. Warren pleaded with the students to press senators who oppose her measure to change their minds.

“Get ahold of these senators, find these senators,” Warren said. “Ask them why they work for billionaires instead of young people who are trying to build a future.”

Another version of the student-loan debt idea was outlined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, who said she wants to see all such loans automatically refinanced to a 4 percent interest rate.

Speaking before the conference, she focused on a different part of the student experience: safety on college campuses. Gillibrand wants to increase the number of prosecutions for sexual assaults.

She said there’s a 1-in-5 chance of a woman being assaulted at college and that most of these incidents occur within the first few months of a woman’s college career.

“Nobody should have to be raped as the price of a college education,” she said.