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The rise of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has surged in polls and is drawing crowds of thousands, does not seem to be pushing Hillary Clinton far to the left.
In a policy address on Monday, Clinton at times used the language of the populist wing of the Democratic Party that at first begged Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president and has now rallied behind Sanders. “We need to go beyond Dodd-Frank,” Clinton said, promising she would “rein in excessive risks on Wall Street.”
But the policy ideas Clinton articulated were generally of the more establishment wing of her party. Many of the proposals, like expanding sick leave for workers and preschool for young children, have been staples of President Obama’s agenda.
Increasing Social Security benefits, breaking up large banks, creating tuition-free college, all ideas proposed Sanders and backed by Warren, went unmentioned by Clinton. The former secretary of state avoided proposing a drastic overhaul of Wall Street regulations, unlike another Clinton opponent, ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Clinton’s team has suggested the former secretary of state is listening closely to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. But she also avoided many of the ideas he has laid out to fix the economy: increasing marginal tax rates for the wealthy, investing more than $1 trillion on an infrastructure program that would employ lots of American workers, and making aggressive attempts to rein in CEO pay.
Almost the entire Democratic Party, except for Obama, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but Clinton did not take a position on the agreement. She avoided the phrase the “top 1 percent,” the group more liberal Democrats, including Stiglitz, say is capturing much of America’s wealth.
Her speech was a kind of populism-lite. It made nods to progressive ideas and included a number of sharp criticisms of Republicans. But it sidestepped many of the issues that divide the Democratic Party.
Clinton, for example, called for increasing the minimum wage from its current $7.25. But the core debate within the party is by how much to increase the wage, as some liberals are urging a surge to $15 an hour.
“I can’t say I’m persuaded that some of the things Clinton mentions are the important drivers of getting us to full employment in a year or two: for example, business tax reform, eliminating red tape, or immigration reform are items which, at best, could be on a long-term growth agenda.,” said Larry Mishel, head of the liberal-learning Economic Policy Institute. “A burst of public investment, which she mentions, is the more likely tool to get us to full employment.”
Mishel, at the same time, praised Clinton for her focused on increasing American wages, as opposed to simply growing the economy. “Bravo,” he said.
Other Democrats also praised the speech.
“This morning’s speech showed that Hillary’s ready to fight for workers and to strengthen the middle class. We’re thrilled by her commitment to expanding union rights and access to high-quality public education,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers in comments distributed by the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Clinton over the weekend.
Clinton aides had indicated before the speech she would not lay out specific ideas on many issues, as the candidate is planning a more formal roll-out of her policies over the next months.
But the speech generally followed Clinton’s approach in her first four months as a candidate. She has strongly embraced the Democratic Party’s shift leftward on cultural issues since 2008. She has pushed for expansion of gay rights and called for new gun control measures, issues she avoided in her last run.
But on economic issues, Clinton has used the rhetoric but not the policy of the Warren-Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.