Clinton's Economic Vow: "Raise Incomes, Lift Up Families"

Clinton's Economic Vow: "Raise Incomes, Lift Up Families"
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NEW YORK—Many months, votes, and challengers stand between Hillary Clinton and her party’s nomination, but she operated in general election mode during her first major economic policy speech here on Monday, seeming to have already internalized the debates and demands of the Democratic base while taking the top Republican contenders to task by name.

Speaking at The New School, a progressive college in Manhattan, Clinton advocated for a “growth and fairness” economy that delivers for the middle class instead of one that “is stacked for those at the top” and pushed for expanding financial industry regulations and prosecuting bad actors on Wall Street—evoking themes and phrases championed by liberal stars such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders that quicken the pulse of the base.

Clinton didn’t mention Sanders or her other Democratic rivals, but she took no such caution in calling out her the top-tier competitors on the Republican side in a way that also seemed intended to appeal to liberal interests.

As Wisconsin’s Scott Walker prepared to formally launch his presidential campaign Monday evening, Clinton took aim at the anti-union policies the governor and conservative consider to be top achievements. “Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights, and practically all the Republican candidates hope to do the same as president,” Clinton said. 

Clinton also cited former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent comments encouraging workers to work longer hours (he later clarified that he was addressing concerns of part-time workers seeking more hours). “Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the trucker who drives all night,” Clinton said, without mentioning the clarification. “They don’t need a lecture – they need a raise.”

The Democrat also criticized a tax reform plan set forth by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, arguing it would give tax relief to high-income households.

Clinton criticized conservatives’ “trickle down” economic policy as one that has increased the debt, concentrated wealth and left middle-class Americans behind. “Twice now in the past 20 years, a Democratic president has had to come in and clean up the mess,” Clinton said, referring to her husband Bill Clinton and her would-be predecessor, Barack Obama, whom she has embraced.  

“The defining economic challenge of our time is clear: We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle-class life. We must drive strong and steady income growth that lifts up families and lifts up our country,” Clinton said. “And that will be my mission from the first day I’m president to the last.” 

Clinton’s speech comes as the primary for the Democratic nomination is heating up, and where the focus of the base is on economic issues. Sanders’ populist message has been drawing massive crowds at campaign events, and he has risen in the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. 

Clinton seemed to have acknowledged this, as well as liberal concerns about her relationship with Wall Street as a U.S. senator from New York. “I know first-hand the role that Wall Street can and should play in our economy,” Clinton said. “But, as we all know, in the years before the crash, financial firms piled risk upon risk. And regulators in Washington either couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up. I was alarmed by this gathering storm, and called for addressing the risks of derivatives, cracking down on subprime mortgages, and improving financial oversight.” 

Clinton praised the Dodd-Frank financial reform law – one in which Warren, then a Harvard law professor, was influential in shaping – and pushed to go beyond it, advocating for criminal consequences for banks, which Warren has also actively advocated for. “While institutions have paid large fines and in some cases admitted guilt, too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences – or none at all, even when they’ve already pocketed the gains,” Clinton said. 

Clinton was serving as secretary of state when Congress passed Dodd-Frank in 2010. But as a former a representative of New York, with Wall Street as a major constituency and financial institutions as major donors to her and her husband's presidential campaigns, Clinton has not gone as far her Democratic rivals in slamming big banks and pushing to disband them. 

While speaking, Clinton was interrupted by one heckler who continued to ask whether she would reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act commercial banking regulations that were repealed during her husband’s administration. Clinton did not acknowledge the protester, and the crowd worked on her behalf to drown him out with applause.

The Democratic frontrunner also addressed trade, an issue that has split the party, with progressives concerned about domestic job loss and rewards for overseas companies. Clinton has walked delicately around the issue, balancing the trade achievements of her husband’s administration and her own previous support for agreements under the current administration with vocal skeptics in the party base. “We do need to set a high bar for trade agreements,” Clinton said Monday. “We should support them if they create jobs, raise wages, and advance our national security. And we should be prepared to walk away if they don’t.”

Clinton also advocated for a list of party agenda items including paid family leave, access to affordable child care, and equal pay that have been pushed by the current president and Democratic lawmakers and used as a way to motivate women voters. Clinton, though, has made these policies that affect women more personal, focusing more on the historic nature of her candidacy than she did during her 2008 run.

“It’s time to recognize that quality, affordable child care is not a luxury – it’s a growth strategy,” Clinton said. “Fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days, child care are essential to our competitiveness and growth.”

Clinton’s economic speech served more as a broad outline of ideas rather than specific policy prescriptions or ways to pay for new or expanded programs, which she is scheduled to lay out in upcoming campaign events. In New Hampshire on Thursday, Clinton will address ways to encourage profit sharing in American companies, so workers can benefit from the corporate earnings they helped to produce, she said.

Later on Monday, Clinton addressed the National Council of La Raza, reiterating much of her morning talk and adding her views on comprehensive immigration reform, which include a path to citizenship.

Democratic rivals Martin O’Malley and Sanders also addressed the Hispanic civil rights group at its meeting in Kansas City. 

O’Malley, former Maryland governor, called for comprehensive immigration reform and referenced his record in Annapolis, where he enacted increases in the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit; signed a state version of the DREAM Act into law; and established a commission led by now-Labor Secretary Tom Perez that oversaw issues related to recent immigrants—all measures that he said helped Hispanic Marylanders.

O'Malley criticized the Republican presidential field for failing to adequately oppose Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Mexican immigrants. “What does it say about the direction of today’s Republican Party that Donald Trump calls all new Americans from Mexico ‘rapists’ and ‘drug dealers’ and ‘murderers,’ and the best their leadership can summon up is that they’re ‘divided’?” said the Democratic candidate. “There’s nothing to be divided about here!” 

Sanders left the crowd cheering his name after delivering a speech dedicated to the middle class. The Vermont senator shared his plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, eliminate public college and university tuitions, expand the Affordable Care Act, and overturn the Citizens United campaign finance ruling. Sanders also told his audience that while America is the “wealthiest country in the history of the world … we don’t know that, because most of the wealth rests in the hands of a few.”

Courtney Such and Matthew Disler contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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