NEW YORK — In her most far-reaching policy address to date, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton presented her vision Monday for a “growth and fairness economy” built on rising incomes for middle-class workers and vowed an aggressive crackdown on Wall Street.
Even as she outlined progressive policies she hoped would motivate liberal Democratic primary voters, Clinton attacked three leading Republican candidates by name for economic agendas she said would benefit corporations and wealthy people at the expense of ordinary workers.
“Today, as the shadow of crisis recedes and longer-term challenges come into focus, I believe we have to build a growth and fairness economy,” she said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
She added, “The defining economic challenge of our time is clear: We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle-class life. . . . That will be my mission from the first day I’m president to the last.”
Clinton’s 45-minute speech Monday morning, delivered in a formal setting at the New School, a progressive college in Greenwich Village, is intended to form the basis of her campaign for the coming months.
With liberals openly concerned about her historic coziness with Wall Street — and with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), her insurgent primary rival, drawing thousands at his rallies by railing against big banks — Clinton struck a tough tone on the financial industry.
She said that many institutions are “too complex and too risky” and promised to go further than President Obama has both in regulating the industry and in prosecuting its bad players. As president, she said, she would appoint and empower regulators who understand that “too big to fail is still too big a problem.” And she promised to ensure that the financial markets “work for everyday investors, not just high-risk traders.”
“Too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences or none at all, even when they’ve already pocketed the gains,” Clinton said. “This is wrong. And on my watch, it will change. . . . We will prosecute individuals as well as firms when they commit fraud.”
But Clinton may not have presented an aggressive enough Wall Street agenda to satisfy some liberals. As she concluded her speech, one man stood in the auditorium and shouted repeatedly, “Senator Clinton, will you restore Glass-Steagall?” He was referring to a 1990s-era law that restricted banking activities. Clinton gave no answer as Secret Service agents encircled the man and others in the crowd applauded loudly to drown him out.
Clinton also tackled what is known as the sharing economy, epitomized by companies such as Uber and Airbnb. She said such firms are “polarizing our economy” by displacing or downgrading blue-collar jobs that once provided solid incomes.
“This on-demand or so-called gig economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation, but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future,” she said.
Later this week, perhaps to drive a contrast with Clinton, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, plans to order an Uber ride on his phone during a visit to Silicon Valley.
In her remarks, Clinton tried to draw a contrast more with Republicans than with other Democrats. She argued that more than three decades of GOP “trickle-down” policies of cutting taxes and loosening corporate regulations have resulted in rising debt and have not helped workers.
“Twice now in the past 20 years, a Democratic president has had to come in and clean up the mess,” she said.
Clinton singled out Bush for having said last week that people should “work longer hours” to boost the economy. He has clarified that he was referring to part-time employees who want to log extra time, but Clinton seized on the remark nonetheless.
“He must not have met very many American workers,” she said. “Let him tell that to the nurse that stands on her feet all day or the teacher that is in that classroom or the trucker that drives all night. . . . They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.”
Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger responded by saying Clinton is offering “antiquated proposals” that “protect the special interests that want to stifle American ingenuity.”
Clinton attacked Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another leading GOP candidate, for his tax plan. She said his proposal would cut taxes for a household making $3 million a year by almost $240,000, which she noted was exponentially more than the annual earnings of a typical family.
“That’s a sure budget-busting giveaway to the super wealthy,” Clinton said.
She also went after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who formally announced his campaign on Monday.
“Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights,” Clinton said. Promising to defend collective bargaining, she added, “I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks.”
Clinton’s speech was heavy on thematic vision but light on specifics. She said she will introduce more detailed policy prescriptions over the course of the summer on issues such as college affordability.
The campaign of one Democratic challenger, Martin O’Malley, tried to contrast Clinton’s remarks with the detailed economic plan the former Maryland governor has laid out.
In a statement issued after Clinton’s speech, O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said, “Rebuilding the American Dream will take more than vague promises. That’s why Governor O’Malley has set bold, progressive, and specific goals to make our economy work for more Americans.”
Much of Clinton’s agenda includes priorities that have shaped Obama’s second-term goals and issues that Democratic congressional candidates highlighted in the 2014 midterm campaigns. Among them are her focus on pay equity for women, paid maternal leave and sick days, and greater access to child care.
“We should make it easier for Americans to be both good workers and good parents and caregivers,” Clinton said. She added, “I am well aware that for far too long these challenges have been dismissed by some as women’s issues. Well, those days are over.”
But Clinton previewed some new ideas, too, such as a corporate profit-sharing plan she said she would expound upon during a visit to New Hampshire on Thursday.
“Hard-working Americans deserve to benefit from the record corporate earnings they help produce,” she said. “So I will propose ways to encourage companies to share profits with their employees. That’s good for workers and good for businesses.”