In her most comprehensive remarks on economic policy yet, Hillary Clinton said she would focus squarely on raising middle-class wages and went after her Republican candidates by name.
As Republicans call for growing the economy and liberals call for tackling economic inequality, Clinton chose a different tack, saying, “The defining economic challenge of our time is clear: We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans."
To do that, she called for increasing the minimum wage, corporate profit-sharing, boosting the power of unions, reducing health-care costs, and expanding the role of women in the economy, among other ideas. She also suggested she would increase taxes on the wealthy and crack down on Wall Street.
Clinton, who has so far declined to go after her potential Republican presidential opponents by name, lined up the three top contenders in the GOP field and whacked each one on a different issue emblematic of what she called failed conservative economic polices.
With former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Clinton called out a comment he made about workers needing to put in longer hours — a remark Bush's campaign said was taken out of context. "You may have heard Governor Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. He must not have met very many American workers,” she said.
Next up was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose corporate tax reform plan she knocked as a giveaway to big business.
Finally, she had especially strong words for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced his candidacy for the presidency today. “Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers' rights,” she said of his push to crack down on public-sector unions.
She called Walker’s moves on unions “mean-spirited” and “misguided,” and added that “We have to get serious about supporting union workers.”
The rest of Clinton’s speech was meant to lay out an analytical framework for how she views the economy and what she would prioritize, rather than an articulation of specific proposals. More detailed rollouts will come starting later this week and continuing through he rest of the summer and beyond.
She also telegraphed how she would distinguish herself from President Obama and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. “Today is not 1993. It’s not 2009,” she said of the years each former Democratic president took office.
Clinton said both of them came into office at time when the economy was in trouble and their economic missions was simple — stop the bleeding. “Twice now in the past 20 years, a Democratic president has had to come in and clean up the mess” left behind by a Republican, she said.
She would likely inherit a stronger economy and have the luxury of choosing a problem to address, which she’s identified as middle-class wages.
Regarding Wall Street, Clinton said that the financial sector has an important role to play in the economy, but added that she would not tolerate the kind of “criminal behavior” that sometimes occurs and lamented when executives are let off the hook.
“We have to go beyond Dodd-Frank,” she said of Obama’s Wall Street reform law. “Too many of our major financial institutions are still too complex and too risky.”
While Clinton went after Republicans, she made no mention of her Democratic rivals or the primary. The speech also comes at a time when Clinton has faced a surprisingly robust challenge from left-wing Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been firing up massive crowds and surging in polls on a message that plutocrats are taking over the country.
Liberal Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who has advised Clinton on economics and was briefed on the speech over the weekend, however gave it a strong endorsement.
“Today Hillary Clinton began to offer the kind of comprehensive approach we need to tackle the enormous economic challenges we face, one that is squarely in line with what we have called for at the Roosevelt Institute,” he said of the progressive think tank where he serves as chief economist.
Clinton also called for “protecting and enhancing Social Security,” an issue pushed by progressive in recent years. The liberal group MoveOn.org, which tried to draft Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race, said it was “great to see” Clinton highlight the topic. "Here's hoping "defend and enhance" includes *expansion* of benefits,” the group tweeted.
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The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, meanwhile, praised Clinton “for the first time ... acknowledging that corporate criminals often escape accountability while pocketing ill-gotten gains,” as the group’s co-founder, Adam Green, said in a statement.
Others saw it as evidence that Clinton was responding to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. "Secretary Hillary Clinton's economic policy speech reflects a very clear understanding that the Democratic Party and the vast majority of the American people want a President who will fight alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren and refuse to kowtow to wealthy and powerful interests on Wall Street,” said Jim Dean, the chairman of Democracy for America, which also tried to draft Warren.
The speech, and Clinton's policy announcements that will stem from it, are the product of conversations and input with more than 200 experts her campaign team has consulted, according to campaign officials. Clinton herself has had conversations with many. Close input also came from advisers with longtime ties to the Clinton, like Center for American Progress Neera Tanden and former Clinton White House economic adviser Gene Sperling.