Hillary Clinton on Monday outlined a wide-ranging list of economic proposals that focus on creating more opportunities for low-and-middle income earners while raising their wages, a populist message that could also appeal to more moderate voters during the general election.
Many of the ideas laid out by the front-runner to be the Democrat’s presidential nominee in 2016 are variations on policy goals that have been put forward in the past by progressive Democrats, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while others are similar to proposals pitched by President Obama. Others looked to expand on laws enacted during Obama’s time in office.
If conventional wisdom holds and Republicans continue to control Congress after the 2016 elections — or at least the House — than many of the ideas discussed by Clinton will be dead on arrival.
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While Clinton didn’t offer too many specifics, what follows is a look at how some of the ideas she discussed Monday have fared in Congress in recent years and whether they would have much of a chance under a President Clinton.
Minimum wage increase and worker protections. Clinton pitched a long list of policies aimed at middle-class workers, including a minimum wage hike, paid family leave and preventing employers from classifying employees as contractors to avoid paying benefits and overtime.
“We do have to raise the minimum wage, and implement President Obama’s new rules on overtime, and then we have to go further,” Clinton said.
Clinton could build on Obama’s executive orders to expand leave time and increase wages for federal workers and empower the Labor Department to crack down on employee misclassification, but she would need Congress to approve a broader wage hike.
That would not be easy to do.
Republicans fought off legislation last year that would have gradually increased the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour over the course of more than two years.
Democrats had a majority in the Senate at the time and still failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster of the bill. Chances of rallying support with Republicans in both the House and Senate are slim, but Jared Bernstein of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said a wage increase could gain support if the economy continues to improve.
“Both Bush presidents passed minimum wage increases,” said Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. “There would be a fight over how much it would be increased and what conservatives would get in return but it is not impossible.”
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Student loan refinancing. Clinton embraced an idea pushed by progressives like Warren and Sanders that would allow people with student loan debt to refinance their loans at current market rates. The plan has been popular with young voters who have amassed tens of thousands of dollars in debt to finance the rising cost of a college education.
While the proposal sounds good on the campaign trail, many Republicans say that student loan debt needs to be addressed as a part of complete higher education overhaul bill, making the proposal’s path through Congress more difficult. Republicans earlier this year blocked a Warren-sponsored budget amendment that would set lower rates for all borrowers, including a slightly higher rate for graduate students.
“The nature of these changes is they do not help people get into college, complete more quickly and get jobs,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum and former economic adviser for John McCain during his 2008 presidential bid. Lowering interest rates for student loan debt “is a windfall for people who already have jobs.”
Increasing taxes on investment earnings and the wealthy. If Clinton’s talk of making the wealthy pay more in taxes by, for example, ending breaks enjoyed by hedge-fund managers sounds familiar it’s because it’s an Obama talking point straight out of the 2012 election.
But many of the tax ideas she ticked off Monday have been rejected by Republicans in Congress.
Clinton backed the Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett who famously lamented paying a lower tax rate than his secretary, that would impose a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on earnings over $1 million. The idea never went anywhere in Congress.
She also proposed closing the so-called carried interest loophole, which allows investment managers to classify some, if not most, of their income as capital gains interest so they can pay lower taxes on those earnings. Clinton paired that proposal with a pitch to make it harder for wealthy financial advisers to avoid taxes.
Most Democrats love the proposals but they have virtually no chance of getting any Republican support. Obama and Senate Democrats increased the capital gains rate from 15 percent to 20 percent as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal reached in the final hours of 2012. Republicans grudgingly gave in then but have vowed to fight back against any attempt to increase this rate in the future.
Strengthening Dodd-Frank and cracking down on Wall Street. Clinton may have spent years representing Wall Street banks and traders as a senator from New York, but presidential candidate Clinton embraced putting more rules on the financial sector saying there is a need to “go beyond” the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
“Too many of our major financial institutions are still too complex and too risky,” she said. “Serious risks are emerging from institutions in the so-called shadow banking system, including hedge funds, high-frequency traders, non- bank finance companies.”
Some Republican agree with liberal critics of Wall Street that “too big to fail” banks remain, but Republicans are unlikely to agree to new regulations after spending years arguing that Dodd-Frank is hurting lending and the broader economy.
Clinton appeared to have this criticism in mind when she made clear her intent is not to target the more traditional banking industry that focuses on such things as mortgages and business loans.
“We can do that, and still ease burdens on community banks to encourage responsible loans to local people and businesses they know and trust,” she said.
Clinton also hit on an issue that has led both Democrats and Republicans to criticize Obama’s Justice Department: The lack of criminal convictions stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.
“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 have already pocketed the gains,” she said. “This is wrong, and on my watch it will change.”
Immigration reform. The one issue that has a good chance in a Clinton presidency is also the one that failed most dramatically during Obama’s presidency: immigration reform.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan immigration legislation in 2013 after months of negotiations led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). The bill had the support of the business community, the Obama administration and 68 Senators. What it didn’t have was the backing of House conservatives.
Support has shifted in recent months and there is wide recognition among many in the House that immigration reform is necessary if not inevitable, said Holtz-Eakin. He said there is bipartisan support for rethinking the immigration system but there is too much bad blood between this Congress and Obama over this issue.
“The last attempt came on the heels of a long period of tension between the White House and Congress and they did not trust him,” Holtz-Eakin said. “New Congress, new president, you try again.”
Clinton, however, didn’t offer many specifics on Monday and the details of any immigration plan are what will be most contentious.