One of the huge benefits Hillary Rodham Clinton derives from being the only Democrat in the field for the 2016 presidential nomination that hasn’t had to focus too much on economic policy. In large part, she has been able to parrot overarching Democratic positions without having to get into the troublesome specifics.
Now though, with a confirmed challenger for the Democratic Party’s nomination and an increasing public realization that President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his term, she will be pressed harder to take firm stands on pocketbook issues.
While there is no sure way of knowing where Clinton will come down, past is often prologue. And on many topics she has recently been reluctant to discuss, she actually has a substantial public record.
Faced with a large element of her party that is unhappy with the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal being signed, Clinton has been notably silent. As others, especially Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Clinton’s recently announced primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (Sanders, officially an independent, is seeking the Democratic nomination), have blasted the deal for potentially harming workers at the expense of corporate interests, Clinton has not stepped up to take a position.
However, the TPP is not a new negotiation. Talks on the sweeping 13-country trade deal have been going on since her time as Secretary of State, when she was TPP’s chief advocate. The deal would “create a new high standard for multilateral free trade,” she said at the time.
“Our goal for TPP is to create not just more growth, but better growth. We believe the TPP needs to include strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation," Clinton said in 2011. “It should also promote the free flow of information technology and the spread of green technology, as well as the coherence of our regulatory system and the efficiency of supply chains.”
On the issue of the minimum wage, Clinton has left no doubt that she is in favor of an increase. Last month, when fast-food workers staged a nationwide walkout to protest low pay, Clinton took to Twitter to show her support.
Every American deserves a fair shot at success. Fast food & child care workers shouldn't have to march in streets for living wages. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 16, 2015
Less clear, though, is what kind of timeline she thinks is appropriate for an increase and what sort of wage floor she will support. Current federal minimum wage of $7.25 is, in most of the country, not a living wage, even assuming a 40-hour workweek. In the past year, the debate over where a wage floor should be set has moved substantially among those advocating for an increase. As recently as his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama called for a $10.10 wage floor. Now, however, legislation is being proposed that would set the federal minimum at $12 or $15.
Clinton will not be able to avoid taking a position on wages for very long.
Clinton’s approach to taxation has not been substantially different from that of President Obama. In 2008, during the presidential debate in Philadelphia, she pledged no tax increases for people making less than $250,000 per year, a cap about 25% higher than Obama was advocating. But she also committed to allowing the tax cuts implemented under George W. Bush, which were due to expire, to go away.
“I do not believe that it will detrimentally affect the economy by doing that,” she said. “We used that tool during the 1990s to very good effect, and I think we can do so again. I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year.”
Clinton has not taken a strong stand on tax reform yet, but her comments blasting policies that allow companies to hold huge amounts of profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes and her past positions advocating small tax increases on the wealthy put her largely in line with the Obama administration.
Clinton is in an interesting position with regard to budget deficits. Her husband was president the last time the U.S. ran a budget surplus, and she has described watching the surplus disappear with the advent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as “personally painful.” However, she was a key figure in an administration that, arguably with few alternatives, presided over massive increases in the federal deficit.
While she was largely removed from the realm of day-to-day politics as Secretary of State, in 2010 she warned that the increasing federal debt and deficit conveyed an image of weakness abroad.
Try Googling “Hillary Clinton and Wall Street” and what’s most surprising about the top results is how little they have to do with Clinton herself and how much they have to do with Sanders and Warren.
The connection between the Clintons and Wall Street has long been fodder for criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party. During Bill Clinton’s two presidential terms, there was a dramatic rapprochement between Democrats and Wall Street. Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which eliminated decades-old restrictions on the combination of banks and brokerages. Business-friendly policies became a far more common plank in Democratic platforms.
Sanders, in particular, promises to press Clinton on just how close the relationship between Wall Street and the Democratic Party ought to be.
It’s not so obvious that Hillary Clinton’s loyalties are precisely in line with her husband’s when it comes to the financial services industry -- even to longtime Democratic policy pros.
Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has closely followed the Clintons over the years. Recently he wrote: “I just don’t know how this plays out.”
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