THERE WASN’T much new in Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s first major domestic policy speech in New York on Monday — and we mean that in the nicest possible way. She repeated the important but, by now, familiar point that the economy desperately needs growth that is both faster and more widely shared than the sluggish, low-wage recovery we have at present, calling this “the defining economic challenge of our time.” And then she recited the list of traditional Democratic Party policy responses: more progressive taxation, a higher minimum wage, an infrastructure bank, clean energy “investments,” equal pay for women, universal “high-quality” preschool and so on. On her most original point, that expanded profit-sharing could help align the interests of business and workers, she promised more details in a later speech.
In short, it was a mainstream, liberal approach with enough detail to give voters a sense of her general direction — but not enough to pin her down to any particular politically difficult trade-off. And that was the beauty of it. Given the pressure coming from the left wing of her party, and especially the insurgent campaign of Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, Ms. Clinton could easily have been expected to pander to progressives — even if that meant committing herself to some of the less responsible points of their agenda. We have in mind Mr. Sanders’s call for a substantial increase in Social Security benefits or his plea for federally subsidized free tuition at state universities. She supported none of that in her speech.
Of course, the lack of specifics had a downside, too. Ms. Clinton continued, maddeningly, to waffle on President Obama’s trade agenda. She simultaneously bemoaned higher out-of-pocket health-care spending and called for continuing recent progress in reducing health-care costs. Yet expanded cost sharing in employer-paid insurance — i.e., higher out-of-pocket spending by consumers — is one reason that overall expenditure growth has slowed. Meanwhile, she offered only a vague sentence or two about another defining challenge of our time: the sustainability of entitlements that are rapidly crowding out other areas of the federal budget, in both defense and non-defense spending. Mr. Obama has made minimal progress on this issue, despite his promises at the outset of his presidency not to “kick the can down the road.”
The federal government’s long-term financial stability is an essential condition of the growth and equity to which Ms. Clinton appropriately aspires, and which her husband, former president Bill Clinton, can plausibly claim to have fostered during his time in office. On Monday, she treated the whole issue as an afterthought. “I will propose ways to ensure that our fiscal outlook is sustainable,” she pledged, which is definitely one promise she needs to keep, and soon.