Hillary Clinton Puts Focus on Growing the Middle Class, Reining in Wall Street

The Democratic front-runner takes aim at income inequity, short-term profits.

Clinton Calls Out GOP Rivals in Economy Speech

Hillary Clinton on Monday outlined a plan for economic growth focused on the middle class and signaled she'll be offering an extensive set of proposals to rein in Wall Street in one of the first major policy speeches of her presidential campaign.

"I believe we have to build a growth and fairness economy. You can’t have one without the other," the Democratic front-runner said at New York's New School, a university known as a liberal think tank on economics and foreign policy. "We can't create enough jobs and new businesses without more growth, and we can't build strong families and support our consumer economy without more fairness. "

Clinton, who had a friendly relationship with Wall Street when she was a senator from New York, delivered a pointed critique of the nation's financial class, saying that "too big too fail is still too big a problem," and rebuking companies that have pumped profits into stock buybacks rather than more substantive investments in capital and their workforce. The former secretary of state presented her proposals as a middle ground between her Republican rivals and Democrats to her left. "I'm talking about clear-eyed capitalism," she said. "Many companies have prospered by improving wages and training their workers that then yield higher productivity." 

The Democratic presidential front-runner's speech was a big-picture survey of her views on the economy, offering an introduction to policy proposals that she will detail in the coming weeks, beginning Thursday with the rollout of her plan to encourage companies to share profits with their workers.

"Hard-working Americans deserve to benefit from the record corporate earnings they helped produce," she said, touching on her broader argument that policies that benefit the middle class will ultimately help businesses.

Clinton told the crowd, which included professors and students from the left-leaning New School, that she sees a need for more rules on Wall Street and better enforcement of existing rules. “I will appoint and empower regulators who understand too big to fail is still too big a problem," she said.

There are firms that are "too complex and too risky," including those in the "shadow banking system" – hedge funds, high-speed traders, non-bank finance companies – and that need greater oversight.

Clinton said she will "fight back" against Republicans trying to roll back Dodd-Frank and push for even more regulations aimed at reining in "excessive risk" on Wall Street. "We have to go beyond Dodd-Frank," she said. To encourage companies to favor long-term investment over "quick trades" and immediate gains, Clinton said she will propose an overhaul of capital gains taxes, though she didn't offer details.

In Clinton's view, companies, particularly in the financial sector, need to do a better job prioritizing their long-term interests over short-term goals, including what's sometimes called "quarterly capitalism." Wall Street, she said, needs to do more to help "Main Street grow and prosper." The Democratic front-runner, who received an early endorsement over the weekend from the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers, also gave a plug for labor unions. "Evidence shows that the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men, so if we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers," she said.

She said she will "crack down" on employers who misidentify full time workers as contractors, to avoid paying benefits, and lamented the fact that the United States ranks 19th among 24 industrialized nations for women's participation in the labor force. "That represents a lot of unused potential for our economy and for American families," Clinton said, adding: "It's time to recognize that quality, affordablechildcare is not a luxury. It's a growth strategy. "

Clinton also excoriated "shocking" misconduct in the financial industry, lamenting that few individuals were punished for their roles in precipitating the 2008 financial crisis. Too often, she said, those individuals have faced limited consequences or “none at all even when they’ve already pocketed the gains.”

"This is wrong and it will change," she said, adding that she hopes to create a trust fund for victims of financial fraud that would be supported by money recovered from people who perpetrated those crimes.

Wall Street wasn't Clinton's only target, as she went after three top Republican presidential candidates: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Raising Bush's recent assertion that Americans should be working "longer hours" (which Democrats interpreted to mean Americans are not working enough, while the Republican presidential candidate has asserted that it was more about helping workers get the hours they want), Clinton remarked:  "He must not have met very many American workers ... they don't need a lecture, they need a raise."

Clinton also name-checked the newest entrant into the Republican presidential race, Walker, who announced his candidacy on Monday."Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names by stomping on worker's rights" and their attacks are "mean-spirited and misguided," she said.

Later, she added an attack on Rubio's tax plan, which would give Americans in the top 0.1 percent of earners an average tax cut of $240,000. "That's a sure budget-busting giveaway to the super-wealthy," she said.

Clinton's plan is centered on three goals: boosting workforce participation and increasing public-private investments; rewarding work more fairly; and encouraging long-term thinking and sustainable business strategies.

Many of her proposals are in line with those that President Barack Obama has pitched, including some that he's tried and failed to get through Republican majorities in Congress. Among the ideas: including raising the federal minimum wage, boosting infrastructure spending and instituting policies that help workers – especially women – balance their family responsibilities with their careers.

In her speech, Clinton credited Obama, her 2008 presidential rival, with having pulled the country back from the brink of depression. She is said he is one of two Democratic presidents who, during the last 20 years, had to "clean up the mess" created by a Republican approach to the economy that, she said, "explodes the national debt" and "concentrates wealth." The other Democratic president? The Democrat's husband.

"Under President Clinton — I like the sound of that," she said, "America saw the longest peacetime expansion in history."

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