The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley interviewed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, for 24 minutes on the phone on June 21. This is the full transcript of their interview, which Tankersley conducted from Washington and Clinton conducted from Columbus, Ohio.
Tankersley: I wanted to start with a question from the last time that we talked when you were in Ohio, in 2006, when I was a reporter for the Toledo Blade and you were doing an event for Sherrod Brown. I asked you about the economy and what we needed to do even then. And you said, “We’ve got to get back to Clinton economic policies” – balanced budgets; spending cuts; sensible, affordable tax policies. I wanted to start by asking, what do Clinton economic policies mean today, and how have they changed in the last 10 or so years?
Clinton: Well Jim I think the first point to make is that we’ve got to look at how we create more good jobs and raise incomes for the future. And there are some lessons that can be learned from prior administrations, my husband’s and others, and from this administration, that would give us some guideposts about what we have to do. We may have worked our way back from the Great Recession and created 14 million new private-sector jobs – I think that’s an American success story we don’t talk about enough – but we still face a lot of headwinds, a lot of historic challenges and global forces that we’ve got to come to grips with.
We’re being buffeted by powerful forces that are different from, or more intense than they were in the 90s: advances in technology, the expansion of global trade, changes in how American families look, live and work. And I think it’s fair to say these trends have powered progress in many ways, but too many of the benefits have gone to those at the top – corporate executives, shareholders, literally the top 1 percent of Americans – which has driven inequality to shocking levels. And a lot of the blue-collar and mid-level jobs that used to provide solid incomes for millions of Americans have disappeared.
The service jobs that are replacing them too often don’t pay enough to raise a family, and I don’t think it has to be this way. We have the power and the responsibility to try to figure out how to harness these big forces to strengthen the middle class instead of hollowing it out.
But instead, I think, too many leaders in government and business have made choices that widened the gap instead of narrowed it. We skewed the tax code toward the wealthy. We continued to undermine workers’ rights. We have blocked investments in our shared future. And I don’t think it’s just greed, as serious as that is. It seems we’ve lost a sense of shared responsibility and forgotten we’re all in this together.
So tomorrow in North Carolina I am laying out ambitious new goals to help us build a stronger, fairer economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. I’m going to be borrowing from a lot of different strategies at work and coming up with some new ones, so that we can have a real debate in this election about the path forward.
Tankersley: When we talk about policies of the past 15 years, are there particular policies you would point to, to say, if we had done this differently, inequality would not have widened, the middle class would not have stagnated?
Clinton: Well let’s look at what we’ve done in the past that has worked. I believe we are woefully ignoring one of the most important priorities we have to make us more competitive, and richer, and stronger, and put people to work, and that is infrastructure. I know it’s kind of a tired and constant debate but it’s true. We have built our country over the last 100 years and now we are really just resting on the sacrifice and investments that prior generations have made. And it’s a shame because it does undermine our competitiveness and it does bar the way for jobs that could be keeping people or putting people in the middle class. So I’m going to be proposing the biggest infrastructure investment since Dwight Eisenhower’s highway program, and it will be a combination of public and incentivized private investment. So there’s one area where I really think we have missed the boat.
Another is, we have failed to invest in clean new renewable energy jobs to the extent I think they are possible for us, and if you look at states that are doing a better job of that, you can see what a difference it makes economically, compared to states that are ignoring the threat of climate change – and equally importantly, the potential for new jobs from clean renewable energy.
We also are poised to be able to make smart investments in advanced manufacturing, something that a lot of people think is lost and there’s no point in trying to get back. But I’ve actually visited businesses, apprenticeship programs, community colleges, technical schools, that are preparing people for advanced manufacturing. And there are jobs out there. We are looking at a big gap between people with the skills that would prepare them for the jobs and the jobs that go unfilled.
So I am committed to looking at what are our gaps are in how we can produce more jobs with rising incomes, and growing the economy, and obviously I want to see it fairer, and that’s not a question of minimum wage, equal pay and family balance policies, but also how we are going to go after the tax code so that they wealthiest among us make their contributions to our success. I saw an article you had written comparing Kansas and California, and it’s a pretty stark comparison. Obviously there are big differences between the two states, but I think the principle is one that is worth exploring.
If we make investments now – and obviously, investments come from both direct public dollars and indirect inducements for private investments – I think you would see the results.
It’s also important to recognize that small business has stalled. There are a lot of explanations for this. I ask people all the time. Probably the most common explanation is that we haven’t yet seen a return to credit being made available for start ups, for small businesses trying to grow, and it’s a real barrier to job creation, because two-thirds of new jobs are started by small business.
So I think if you just look at the economy and you take apart the drivers for growth and rising incomes, and you ask yourself where is this being done, and where isn’t it? How can we do more of it? What can we do at the federal level to try to incentivize state and local governments and private businesses to act?
I’ll end with this one story. I think it was Politico had a long piece about the revitalization of a particularly dangerous part of a poor neighborhood inside of Cincinnati. They tried a lot of different things, none of which were working. Finally the business community came together with the elected officials who said we need to try some different things, and one of the tools that they used back in the early aughts was something started by my husband, the New Markets Tax Credit. They used it to try to incentivize private-sector, philanthropic investment into this neighborhood.
So we have a lot of evidence about what works. We need to be willing to examine that and then try to apply different approaches to the various challenges that we face.
Tankersley: I’d love to ask you about a few of the specific policies you’ve just mentioned. First, to talk about the tax rates the wealthiest Americans pay. You talk a lot about them paying their ‘fair share’. Do you have in your mind a number, as a percent of their income, for what a ‘fair share’ would be for those wealthiest Americans?
Clinton: You know, I have embraced the Buffett Rule. That would be a minimum tax of 30 percent. I have embraced a Fair Share Surcharge on incomes above $5 million. I have looked at changes that Trump is proposing that are pretty much way out there in terms of the benefits that would accrue to the wealthiest and certainly am opposed to that. So my tax plan would provide breaks to those who need it the most. I would not increase taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 and year.
Compare that to Trump’s plan which would benefit the very rich to an unprecedented degree – you would actually give millionaires and corporations tax cuts in the trillions. More than 30 percent of his proposed tax cuts on personal income would go to the top 1 percent of income earners. Not only are these policies off-base, they would undermine our economic health and, according to experts, cause an unusually lengthy recession.
So it’s not only what I am proposing, but I think it’s important to look at the proposals coming from the other side and what their consequences would be.
Tankersley: But if Congress adopted your plan for the Buffett Rule, and your surcharge, then do you believe, if those both were enacted, the wealthy would be paying their fair share?
Clinton: Well, we’d have to get into the details, but we’d sure be on the right path.
Because right now – and I think this is one of the reasons Trump doesn’t want to release his income taxes is, at least the years we have seen, there are several years he’s paid nothing in federal income tax – there are still so many loopholes, so many gimmicks, that permit wealthy people with their legions of accountants and lawyers and lobbyists, to avoid paying even nominal tax rates, anything close to what a hard-working middle-class wage-earner would pay.
So we are going to go after the wealthy, because, as Warren Buffett has said, that’s where the money is.
Tankersley: You said again today that you would renegotiate trade deals that aren’t working for working Americans. So I would like to know, do you believe the economy would be better off today in the United States if we had not signed NAFTA, CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China?
Cinton: I think that’s a hard question to answer, because we only did one-half of the equation in all three of those examples.
Part of the problem is that the trade agreements themselves have not been enforced. That is why I am advocating a trade prosecutor. I have set a very high bar for trade deals. I will only sign them if they meet that high bar of raising wages and creating good-paying jobs and enhancing our national security, and I know a little bit about how to go toe to toe with foreign companies on trade enforcement.
Again, you compare where Trump is on trade and I think it’s pretty obvious that he would be someone who might recklessly start trade wars. He is advocating that. And as I said in my speech today, we went down that road in the 1930s and it made the Great Depression longer and more painful.
Now, when it comes to the trade agreements that we have, I have said I would renegotiate the agreements to try to make them more enforceable, make them more likely to require that other countries truly open their markets to us. Because in fact, that has not happened to the degree that we had hoped for, and I am very concerned that we are at a point now where we can no longer absorb as much of the manipulation of trade that we have in the past.
You know, I opposed the only multilateral trade deal that came up when I was in the Senate, CAFTA, because I thought it was bad for American jobs. I fought hard for American manufacturers against China’s cheating as a senator from New York. So we’ve got to go after the problems with our trade agreements to make them work better, not displace jobs. And our biggest trade issues are with China, who we don’t have a trade deal with, but they are the biggest rule-breaker out there.
So I recognize, we have to make some change in trade agreements, but I also believe we can’t shut our borders to trade. We aren’t even 5 percent of the world’s population so we’ve got to figure out how to sell to the other 95 percent, and that means we have to know how to compete and win.
That brings me to the other side of the equation, because, despite a lot of efforts in the past to truly have a safety net, to truly have a lifelong learning system, to truly support employment – especially in industries that were under pressure from global competition – we just haven’t stepped up and done what we needed to do.
So I look at this from both sides. We’ve got to make our trade agreements more enforceable and then enforce them. We’ve got to renegotiate them so that we are not taking advantage of. We have to make sure they’ve met the bar I’ve set. But at the same time we have to support people who are affected, dislocated by trade. And we just don’t do a very good job of that.
Tankersley: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the anxiety we are seeing among white working class Americans, particularly men, in this campaign cycle. Where do you think that anxiety is coming from, and how would your policies help those anxious workers?
Clinton: Jim, I think it’s real, and I respect the fear, the anxiety, even the anger that a lot of people are feeling, because the advance of globalization and technology has really replaced or undermined the future for many jobs. You don’t have to go just to coal country to see that. You can go to a lot of parts of America, where people had good, decent jobs that provided a good middle class life for them and their kids. That was the American Dream. That’s how we used to define it.
Now, we’ve seen so much downward pressure on wages. We’ve seen the disappearance of a lot of jobs that used to be available. And so I do think globalization and technology have played a role. But I also think decisions made by business leaders and government leaders have also played a role. I just don’t think we are as focused as we need to be in trying to rebuild economic opportunity in places that have been hollowed out.
And we know some things about how to do that. We cut back on our research budget in the last several years – it was the worst time to do that, under sequestration. We could be reaping benefits from all kinds of research into jobs sectors of the future. You know, during the primary campaign my husband visited Morehead State in Eastern Kentucky, which had a contract from I think NASA, or maybe DOD, and you had kids in this university working on miniaturizing satellites. It showed that if you have higher education linked up to job creation, we can actually not only invent things, we can maybe make the transition to manufacturing them, with the right kind of incentives.
So I really believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. What people are feeling is that the economy failed them, their government failed them. They just are looking for somebody who will explain, in a way they will accept, what’s happened. So Trump comes along and he blames immigrants and he blames minorities and he blames women, and people are responsive to that because these are hard times that folks are going through.
I think my economic message is resonating with people – through all our campaign we’ve received more votes than anyone in this primary season, including Donald Trump. And it’s fair to say that my economic plans are detailed and varied because I think we are facing complex problems that require serious solutions. But they’re all focused on a single, over-arching goal, and that is to create good-paying jobs with rising incomes. That is the defining economic challenge of our time.
So that’s why I’m coming forth with the biggest, boldest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower. It’s why I believe that we can boost productivity in the economy by better linking education and skills. Like I said, the number of people who could get jobs if they had the skills, as machinists or tool and die makers, or computer coders or whatever it may be. So I’m excited about what we can do.
I respect the legitimate concerns that so many Americans have, because of what has happened to them. But I am offering a path forward that I think can actually produce results for them.