Published On: Sat, Jul 11th, 2015

Clinton to center campaign on raising middle-class incomes

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen here in San Francisco last month, will give a major economic policy speech on Monday. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen here in San Francisco last month, will give a major economic policy speech on Monday. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Centering her presidential campaign on boosting incomes for middle-class Americans, Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will begin unveiling an economic policy agenda designed to lift working families that have experienced years of wage stagnation and economic anxiety.

In a major address in New York, the Democratic front-runner will lay out a diagnosis for why wages have been stuck and a framework to ensure that economic growth benefits more ordinary workers, according to campaign officials.

“She believes that making sure the real incomes of everyday Americans are rising steadily and strongly is the defining economic challenge of our time,” said one campaign official, who previewed Clinton’s remarks only on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Iowa City, Iowa, United States, July 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Iowa City, Iowa, United States, July 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Clinton will endorse a host of popular Democratic policies such as raising the minimum wage and investing more in infrastructure. She will emphasize proposals tailored toward working women, one of her most important bases of support, such as expanding access to child care and providing workers with paid family and sick leave.

The ideas, in many ways, sound similar to the second-term agenda of President Obama, who faced an economic crisis in his first term and in his second started to more directly to address the nation’s long-running economic problems. But he has struggled to pass major legislation with a Republican-dominated Congress.

Clinton will say she wants to build on his agenda, and, in working to craft an economic vision of her own, she goes further in her emphasis on giving women more flexibility to enter the workforce and on new government efforts to change the investment and pay decisions of corporations.

Clinton’s speech, to be delivered at 10 a.m. Monday at the New School, a progressive university in Greenwich Village, will cement a leftward shift in the Democratic Party. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, concerns about the widening gap between rich and poor have risen to the top of the party’s agenda.

Clinton is carving out space between the Republican candidates, who pay more attention to growing the economy than to raising wages, and her leading Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who focuses more on redistributing income to solve the inequality problem than on growth.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, pictured at a small-business roundtable discussion in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has consulted more than 200 domestic policy experts to develop her economic agenda. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, pictured at a small-business roundtable discussion in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has consulted more than 200 domestic policy experts to develop her economic agenda. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Clinton’s aides said she plans to assert that the Republican candidates use rhetoric designed to appeal to middle-class voters but are proposing dated, trickle-down policies from the Reagan presidency — such as tax cuts for the wealthy, with the hope that they fuel growth that eventually benefits working families.

The U.S. economy grew only 2.4 percent last year, and over the past 15 years, economic growth has slipped well below the averages of the 1980s and 1990s. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is promising to grow the economy by 4 percent a year.

But Clinton will argue that “the measure of our economic success should be how much incomes rise for middle-class households, not an arbitrary growth figure,” according to the Clinton campaign official.

Clinton’s speech is sure to draw fire from Republicans, who will chafe at her calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and more regulation of Wall Street and business in general. Many conservative economists warn that such proposals stunt economic growth.

In her speech, aides said Clinton will argue that tectonic forces in the global economy are conspiring against middle-class families — such as automation and technology, which are eliminating middle-skill jobs that once provided solid incomes, as well as the new “sharing economy,” epitomized by Uber, which has created efficiency but also jobs lacking benefits and protections. But she will say that the government should enact policies to shape how these forces affect Americans.

“She’s really addressing the issues of the moment,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, who has been advising Clinton on policy. “The challenges we face today are different than when she was running eight years ago. . . . She sees that the challenges are large and profound, but she thinks they’re issues we can address and that we shouldn’t just be subject to these global trends.”

Clinton will at least implicitly critique Obama, whom she served as secretary of state, with her discussion about stagnant wages under his watch. But aides said she intends to commend him for facing and passing an urgent test to grow the economy quickly.

Advisers said Clinton’s economic agenda will be organized in three parts. The first is about breaking down barriers to joining the workforce, including increased private and public investments in an infrastructure bank, tax relief to small businesses and clean energy development.

As part of her workforce focus, Clinton will decry that women’s participation in the workforce has stalled after decades of growth and that many working parents, especially single mothers, have passed up job opportunities because of their family obligations. She will preview policies on child care, paid leave and paid sick days.

Clinton’s second area of focus is reducing income inequality. She will assert that the current economy unfairly rewards some work, such as financial trading, more than other work, such as building and selling products. She will celebrate Obama’s new rules on overtime, but also urge raising the minimum wage, fighting wage theft and overhauling the tax code to make the wealthiest Americans pay what she considers their fair share, as well as supporting collective bargaining and reducing health-care costs.

The third area is corporate reform. She plans to argue that companies should focus more on creating lasting value, including investing in their workers, than on earning quarterly profits to satisfy shareholders. To that end, she will call for more investments in research and development, changes in tax structure and new rules on shareholder activism.

Clinton will introduce these ideas in Monday’s speech and then roll out more detailed prescriptions on issues such as college affordability, paid leave, wage growth and corporate accountability throughout the summer.

Liberal groups, which have been skeptical of Clinton’s candidacy and especially its closeness to Wall Street, will be watching her speech with a skeptical eye.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group allied with liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), has not seen Clinton’s agenda but said he will be listening to hear whether Clinton takes on “the power of Wall Street and corporate bad actors.”

Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist who has advised Obama and Vice President Biden and was briefed on Clinton’s plans, said he thought she would satisfy progressives because her agenda “reconnects growth and middle-class prosperity.”

For the past several months, Clinton and her advisers have met with more than 200 domestic policy experts. Campaign aides Jake Sullivan, Ann O’Leary and Maya Harris, with input from Gary Gensler, a Warren ally and the campaign’s chief financial officer, developed the policy.

A number of outside advisers were involved as well, including Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz; former Obama White House economic advisers Gene Sperling, Alan Krueger, Christina Romer and Ronnie Chatterji; economists Alan Blinder and Heather Boushey; political scientist Jacob Hacker; law professor David Kamin; and Tanden.

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