Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke appeared Feb. 14 before the Senate Budget Committee. Bernanke addressed the Senate Banking Committee.

Clinton, Obama Offer Similar Economic Visions

Sen. Barack Obama says he would propose a $210 billion economic plan if elected president. Obama is campaigning in Wisconsin, where he hopes to continue his winning streak in the state's Feb. 19 primary. Video by AP
By Jonathan Weisman and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 15, 2008

WARREN, Ohio, Feb. 14 -- Hillary Rodham Clinton slammed Barack Obama during an appearance at a General Motors plant here on Thursday for what she charged was a lack of a record of achievement on the economy. But as both Democratic presidential candidates announced comprehensive economic plans this week, they advocated similar visions for what has become the single biggest issue for voters in the 2008 campaign.

Clinton and Obama both promised that they would make the tax code more middle-income-friendly and would protect consumers from threats -- including predatory credit card companies and rapacious college lenders. Both candidates condemned corporate tax breaks that they say send jobs overseas. Both pledged to protect homeowners and said they would repeal President Bush's upper-income tax cuts while extending those for the middle class. Both promised to rein in credit card companies that arbitrarily raise interest rates, sending families into a downward spiral of debt.

"I've been looking for ways to differentiate these two, and it hasn't been easy," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. This week's economic speeches do not "make it a whole lot easier," he added.

Despite the similarities, Clinton, eager to generate positive news about her campaign, went on the offensive during her tour of an automotive plant. She sharpened her line of attack against Obama and what she argues is his lack of substance. "Over the years, you've heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches," Clinton told a group of factory workers. "Speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank. Speeches don't fill your prescriptions."

She continued: "That's the difference between me and my Democratic opponent. My opponent makes speeches. I offer solutions."

But even with the economy teetering on the edge of a recession and both Democrats hoping to win union-heavy Ohio -- not to mention the endorsement of former senator and rival John Edwards (N.C.) in the days ahead -- neither Clinton nor, a day earlier, Obama swerved into an overt populist appeal. Where Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) castigated "Benedict Arnold CEOs" during his White House bid four years ago, Clinton and Obama seem to be channeling the Bill Clinton of 1992.

"I won't stand here and tell you that we can -- or should -- stop free trade. We can't stop every job from going overseas," Obama told GM employees on Wednesday, just hours after the company offered thousands of worker buyouts. "But I also won't stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements."

The relative restraint has been somewhat surprising, party economists say. Ohio Democrats have been pushing them toward a harder edge, especially on trade, but so far to no avail. "We want them to address job losses, the outsourcing issue, renegotiating trade agreements and the mortgage crisis," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio). "But we're hearing a lot of generalities."

The economic clouds are darkening rapidly. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke warned the Senate budget committee on Thursday that the economic outlook has worsened, sending stock prices tumbling.

"They're operating in an environment where for the first time on record, we could be going into a recession with household incomes actually lower than they were the last time we were in recession," said Jason Furman, a Brookings Institution economist who advised Kerry. "The economic pressures are just that much greater."

Still, in choosing government as the tool to deliver health care, protect consumers, and direct investment in energy and infrastructure, both Democrats are setting up a general-election fight that will follow a familiar partisan argument about what the size and scope of government should be.

Said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee: "We will have a spirited and respectful discussion of the issues, but, believe me, I believe that I and my party, which is a center-right, conservative outlook, both philosophically and in legislative action, will prevail over the big-government, big-spending Democrats."

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