The Clinton Plan For America

Hillary Clinton has accumulated enough support to secure victory in the Democratic primary, advancing to face a Republican opponent almost no one predicted at this time last year. Her long primary-campaign battle with Bernie Sanders pushed her to more liberal positions on a handful of issues, most notably the minimum wage and international trade, but neither it, nor the expected dynamics of her general election contest with Donald Trump, appears to have fundamentally changed the issue set that Clinton hopes to ride to the White House.

Clinton kicked off the 2016 campaign talking about inequality, corporate greed and the struggling middle class. She’s still talking about those issues and still framing many of them through a set of often-wonky policy proposals that often focus on what you might call “kitchen-table issues” for families. Her ideas rely on a combination of added government regulation, particularly in labor markets, and increased federal spending, in areas such as education and child care.

She has said what two of her top priorities would be — overhauling the immigration system and spending hundreds of millions more on infrastructure — and has hinted strongly that they would be joined, at the top of her list, by policies that would affect working women in particular, such as mandatory paid family and medical leave.

Unlike Trump, who has offered few specifics on his agenda and has at many times taken contradictory positions on issues, Clinton has laid out a consistent and largely detailed agenda, although some questions remain (such as what top corporate tax rate she favors). It is well described as an extension of President Obama’s agenda — with a notable deviation on trade — and because she has put flesh to it, it is easier to summarize and to critique than Trump’s.

Here are the highlights of her plans:

Family leave

One of Clinton’s goals is to help workers take time off the job to care for loved ones. Under her plan, every worker would be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and an additional 12 weeks of paid medical leave. While on leave, the government would pay these workers two-thirds of what they make on the job in order to replace their wages. The money would come from increased taxes imposed on the wealthy.

That last point is a difference between Clinton and Democrats in Congress. They have proposed a similar program but one that would be funded through an increase in the payroll tax, one that all workers would pay.

Early education

Early education is another component of Clinton’s plan to help families get by. Clinton has called for additional federal funding for education for young children, funding that would be administered by the states under her plan. She has said that her goal is for no family to have to spend more than 10 percent of their income on child care.

Many economists argue that quality education in early childhood can help children succeed later on in school and in adulthood, and that too often, older children and young adults who grew up with disadvantages early in their lives can’t catch up to their peers. They say early education is one of the most profitable investments society can make in the economy of the future.

Minimum wage

Clinton has said she thinks the federal minimum wage should be increased, but she has only gone as far as endorsing a $12 hourly minimum. While she has said that local governments should be free to set minimums above that level if they choose, her position has been a disappointment for activists who have campaigned for $15 an hour.

In a recent debate, Clinton did say she would be willing to sign a bill setting the federal minimum at $15 an hour if Congress presented her with one, but it is not the policy she prefers.

Immigration

Clinton has said that one of her immediate priorities, if elected, would be to extend President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, giving a broad group of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply to law enforcement for a reprieve from deportation.

The courts, however, have stymied Obama’s most recent effort to give temporary relief to several million undocumented immigrants. Whether Clinton would be able to do any more depends on whether the courts agree that the president has the authority to do more.

Infrastructure

Another immediate priority next year for Clinton would be asking Congress to make a major investment in roads, bridges, railways, airports, water systems and other physical infrastructure. Her aides have suggested she’ll ask for at least $275 billion.

Trade

Clinton has withdrawn her support for Obama’s international trade deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she helped negotiate when she served as his secretary of state. In general, though, she has said that she is willing to support trade agreements if they satisfy certain conditions.

“I did say, when I was secretary of state three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard,” Clinton said at a debate in October, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards, my standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans.”

Wall Street

Hillary Clinton has said that the largest banks should be dissolved if they pose a risk to the economy, repeating what has been a rallying cry for the progressive movement in the Democratic Party and for her rival in the primary, Bernie Sanders.

What breaking up the banks would mean in practice isn’t completely clear. As president, Clinton could try to appoint regulators who would take a hard line with the banks, using the authority that Congress granted them in the Dodd-Frank financial reform in 2010 to force them to dissolve. Doing so would involve declaring the banks a grave risk to the economy or deeming them unable to withstand a crisis in an orderly way.

Clinton has also proposed a graduated tax on banks’ liabilities, which would penalize the largest institutions and counteract the advantages that they arguably receive from their size. In addition, she favors stricter requirements to force banks to rely on shareholders rather than depositors and other banks to fund their operations, so that in the event of a crisis, losses would be contained to shareholders.

Taxation

Another problem with Wall Street, according to Clinton is that corporate managers and investors focus too much on immediate gains as opposed to making investments that will be profitable over the long term. She has proposed increasing the tax on capital gains so that investors get a larger break the longer they hold onto their investments.

She has also called for a 4 percent surcharge on those with incomes above $5 million a year, which is about 0.02 percent of taxpayers. She argues the increase is necessary to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

In all, Clinton would raise $1.1 trillion in additional taxes over the next decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Criminal justice

Last year, the first major speech of Clinton’s presidential campaign was on criminal justice. She called for an “end to the era of mass incarceration.”

“There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts,” Clinton said.

In addition to commenting favorably on bipartisan efforts in Congress to reduce prison terms for nonviolent federal offenders, Clinton called on police to adopt strategies that foster trust among civilians. She also argued that disparities in criminal justice often reflect broader social inequities — disadvantages in terms of education and economic opportunity.

Foreign policy

In international affairs, Clinton has taken a more hawkish tone than Obama, Sanders or the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Clinton was one of the most important advocates for the intervention in Libya, and she has also argued for military intervention in Syria, which her former boss rejected.

Clinton has also said, though, that she supports Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. Under the agreement, Iran will reduce the number of its centrifuges and the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran also agreed not to move toward enriching weapons-grade uranium for another 15 years and to submit to regular inspections by U.N. officials.

Social Security

Clinton has promised not to reduce benefits for Social Security, and she has also said she wants to expand the program. The former secretary of state has not, however, published a detailed proposal on Social Security, leaving unanswered questions about how she would address its financial problems over the long term.

Analysts project that Social Security will be unable to continue paying benefits in full beginning in about 2034. Clinton has said that to address this shortfall, she would ask wealthy Americans to contribute more to the program, and she has mentioned an increase in the limit on taxable income as one possibility. Social Security was designed as a middle-class program, and annual income above a certain amount is neither taxed nor counted toward workers’ benefits from Social Security when they retire.

Yet while eliminating the limit on income taxed for Social Security would go a long way toward solving the program’s fiscal challenges, Social Security’s actuaries project that more money would still be needed. Many economists have argued that the payroll tax should be increased to come up with the funds, but Clinton has eschewed increases in taxes on ordinary families.

Clinton has also proposed expansions to the program, although without offering details. She has said she wants to increase benefits for the poorest retirees and that workers who take several years off to care for their families should be able to earn credit toward Social Security for their work outside the formal labor market.

“When the Social Security program was started in the 1930s, not very many women worked, and women have been disadvantaged ever since,” Clinton said at a debate in Milwaukee. “They do not get any credit for their care-taking responsibilities.”

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee. Follow @MaxEhrenfreund
Jim Tankersley covers economic policy for The Post. He’s from Oregon, and he misses it. Follow @jimtankersley