Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated  / Source: NBC News
By Perry Bacon Jr.

Hillary Clinton, like many of the presidential candidates in both parties, has not issued detailed policy statements on every issue this early in the campaign.

Clinton though, unlike the other presidential hopefuls, is a huge favorite to win her party’s nomination, so there is interest from both the left and right on her stances. The former secretary of state has laid out some broad policy views at this stage, such as suggesting she wants to reduce the amount of money in politics that comes from undisclosed donors. And she is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s a closer look at some of the specific issues where she has yet to take a stand:

1. Income inequality, power inequality, wage stagnation or declining social mobility?

Everyone agrees the American economy is not quite working. But there is not a clear consensus on exactly what the problem is.

In America today, it’s getting more difficult for people born in poor households to get to the middle class; many Americans in the middle class have not had a real pay increase in more than a decade; the top 1 percent of Americans have a growing share of the nation’s income; and those wealthy Americans have disproportionate influence in shaping policy outcomes.

Clinton has suggested she views all four of those issues as problems. But she has limited time to campaign and if elected, will have to choose priorities on which to govern. An agenda focused on reducing social mobility would look like President Obama's, with policies such as expanded pre-school and free community college. Inequality of power could involve much more controversial stands, like limiting the size of big banks, as Elizabeth Warren supports.

It's not clear any politician has a coherent set of policies that will raise wages beyond hiking the minimum wage, which Clinton supports.


Clinton is almost certain to call for some tax increases for the wealthy. The question will be if she limits them to the very wealthy, as Obama has done, or also targets families who earn between $250,000 and $450,000 each year.

One of Clinton's top domestic policy advisers, Ann O'Leary, has been an advocate of two other ideas that the former secretary could tout. One is that restaurants, retail stores and other employers should be required to give their employees predictable schedules of when they will work, to make it easier for parents to arrange child care and also work full-time.

Another is that the government take greater steps to encourage "marriage or stable cohabiting relationships" and "reduce unintended and unplanned pregnancies among unmarried mothers."

"The government should tackle the problem at its root by aiming to reduce unintended and unplanned pregnancies among unmarried mothers in the same way that Congress and the nonprofit sector have tried to tackle teen pregnancy through increased public education and awareness and better information and access to contraception," O'Leary wrote in an essay last year.

2. Policing

The recent shooting in South Carolina of an unarmed black man has drawn renewed attention to police conduct and potential unfair targeting of minorities. A number of large cities, including Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, are expanding the use of body cameras being worn by police, looking to increase transparency in interactions between officers and citizens.

The Obama administration has been supportive of expanded body camera use, but also argued it is not a panacea. Administration officials have also urged greater data collection on arrests and stops by police, to examine if blacks or Hispanics are being disproportionately focused on by officers. And some liberal groups have demanded the Obama administration block federal funding for police departments that don’t require their officers to undergo racial bias training, a policy the administration has so far not embraced.

Clinton praised President Obama for a creating police task force last year and in a speech declared, “black lives matter,” invoking one of the mantras of the police reform movement.

But this is not an easy political issue for Clinton. Being cast as anti-police would not be helpful politically for the former secretary of state. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and one-time Clinton aide, has angered the police in the liberal-leaning city by pushing for limits on practices like stop and frisk.

At the same time, black activists and African-Americans voters who Clinton needs to strongly back her are deeply concerned about these issues.

And so is one of Clinton's own top aides. Maya Harris, named one of Clinton's policy advisers last week, wrote a chapter in the 2006 book "The Covenant with Black America" calling for comprehensive policy changes.

"It is not enough to just deploy more officers, or just increase the diversity of the department, or just establish a civilian review board," Harris wrote. "We have to do all of that-and more. We will not see a measurable difference or sustained improvement in community-police relations, unless police departments, working in partnership with local communities, implement positive change on all fronts."

3. Social Security

The two political parties are splitting on this issue. New Jersey Gov. and 2016 GOP candidate Chris Christie called last week for raising the age that the elderly can start getting Social Security benefits from 62 to 64.

Democrats meanwhile are headed in the opposite direction. For years, Democratic politicians, including Obama, have hinted they would accept a so-called grand bargain that would limit some benefits in Medicare and Social Security.

Now, the left of the Democratic Party, led by Warren, is pushing for increasing Social Security benefits. They argue as most companies no longer offer pensions, American workers are often in danger of retiring without enough money to live the rest of their lives.

A liberal-backed proposal from former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin would increase Social Security benefits by about $72 a month for seniors, funded by removing the cap on the Social Security tax, which currently applies only to income up to $118,000.

Polls show liberals overwhelming favor this idea. Clinton will be pushed to support it.

4. A large hike in the minimum wage

Liberal organizers are pushing big cities like Washington, D.C. to adopt a $15 minimum wage, much higher than the current federally-mandated $7.25. Obama has proposed an increase to $10.10, but the left will urge Clinton to go higher. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, another Democratic presidential candidate, has embraced the $15 idea.

A number of major companies have announced raises for their workers over the last year as the economy has improved, but they are wary of going to $15 an hour. This issue pits big businesses against labor unions, and Clinton would like to have the support of both.

5. Common Core and No Child Left Behind

The education reform movement, embraced by three consecutive presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama) is now being criticized from the left and the right. NCLB, the education law passed overwhelming by Congress in 2001 and supported back then by Hillary Clinton, has angered both liberal and conservative Americans who say there is just too much high-stakes testing in American schools. Common Core, adopted by governors of both parties in 2010, is being blasted as warping standards and changing how math and reading are being taught in ways parents are not comfortable with.

On education, the divide is not truly left-right, but in many ways it’s elites versus the public. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton and many of their top advisers have embraced the education reform movement’s ideas, but now must deal with the public’s skepticism. It’s also minorities versus whites, as many civil rights groups say these standards have been instrumental in getting schools to focus more closely on educating low-income and minority students.

The specific issues are numerous. Would Clinton, like Obama, incentivize states to adopt the Common Core? Would Clinton, like Obama and Bush, support yearly testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as mandated in No Child Left Behind? Does she support tying teacher pay to how students perform on yearly tests? Is she for fewer, but better-written tests, as President Clinton has recently suggested?