Hillary Rodham Clinton accused former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of lacking an understanding of the needs of American workers on Monday, using an agenda-setting economic speech to cast Republican prescriptions for the economy as relics of the past that would do little to boost wages for the middle-class.
Outlining the tenets of her economic agenda, Clinton seized upon the recent comments from Bush, who said last week in New Hampshire that "people need to work longer hours." She said that Bush "must not have met many American workers," and said he wouldn't hear that sentiment from teachers or nurses or truck drivers. "They don't need a lecture. They need a raise," she said.
The Democratic presidential front-runner outlined the themes of her economic agenda in a speech at The New School in New York City, where she called raising incomes for hard-working Americans the defining economic challenge facing the nation. The speech offered tough medicine for Wall Street traders just a few blocks away and included swipes at other leading Republican presidential candidates, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was launching his campaign on Monday.
She specifically criticized a tax proposal put forward by Rubio, saying it would significantly cut taxes for households earning $3 million a year. "That's a sure budget-busting giveaway to the super-wealthy," Clinton said. She also ripped into Walker, saying he was an example of a GOP governor who had "made their names stomping on workers' rights."
During a stop in New Hampshire last week, Bush had been discussing the high number of part-time workers listed among the roster of employed Americans, and the need for people to find more full-time employment. Democrats have seized upon the comments, hoping it will undermine the ability of the brother and son of U.S. presidents to connect with middle-class workers.
Allie Brandenburger, a Bush spokeswoman, said in response that Clinton was "proposing the same failed policies we have seen in the Obama economy, where the typical American household's income has declined and it's harder for businesses to hire and the middle class to achieve rising incomes."
Republicans note that under Obama, the workplace participation rate has declined to their lowest levels since 1977 and the labor force includes millions of people working in part-time jobs who would prefer working full-time.
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In a sign of his stature in the GOP field, Bush received the brunt of Clinton's criticism. At one point, Clinton said the nation's economy should not be measured by "some arbitrary growth targets untethered to people's lives and livelihoods." That was a veiled reference to Bush, who has said he would set a goal of 4 percent economic growth, including 19 million jobs, if elected president, and would seek to harness innovation and technology.
Clinton, meanwhile, made no mention of her chief Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has wooed Democrats by making economic inequality the central plank of his insurgent campaign. But her message appeared aimed at liberals who have expressed anxiety about the uneven recovery of the economy since the Great Recession.
Clinton pointed to the economic progress during her husband's two terms in the 1990s and more recently under President Barack Obama. But she said that globalization and technological changes require the next president to take steps to help middle-class Americans participate in economic prosperity.
"Today is not 1993. It's not 2009. So we need solutions for the big challenges we face now," Clinton said.
She pointed to a laundry list of Democratic-leaning policy ideas, including more public investment in infrastructure projects like the construction of roads and bridges, advancing renewable energy and tax cuts for small business owners. Clinton also expressed support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, an overhaul to the tax code, and policies proposals related to child care, paid leave and paid sick days.
But in framing her economic vision, Clinton attempted to meet the demands of liberals within her own party who question her willingness to regulate Wall Street. Some of those Democrats have rallied behind Sanders and many progressives note that Clinton has received backing from the financial sector in past races and received lucrative speaking fees to address Wall Street conferences.
Clinton urged corporate leaders to "embrace their responsibilities" to workers, threatening tougher action against those who behave badly.
She vowed to expand the Dodd-Frank law passed by Congress in 2010, which tightened regulation of financial institutions. Clinton said the rules were "under assault" by Republicans — and advocated increased government oversight not only of the country's' biggest banks but of hedge funds, high-frequency traders, and other powerful financial players.
She leveled a subtle swipe against the Obama administration, which took no action against the individual financial titans who pursued risky fiscal practices that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. Clinton promised criminal prosecutions of bad bankers.
She said financial figures too often "get off with limited consequences or none at all, even when they have already pocked the gains."
"This is wrong and on my watch it will change," she said. Clinton said she would offer plans to "rein in excessive risks on Wall Street and make sure stock markets work for everyday investors."
Clinton's economic framework will be followed by a series of speeches this summer to outline a number of economic proposals, including wage growth, college affordability, corporate accountability and paid leave. She plans to discuss the need for corporate profit-sharing during a stop in New Hampshire on Thursday.
Clinton's high-profile economic speech coincided with a courting of labor groups and Hispanic officials, who also are being wooed by Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Clinton received the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers union on Saturday and both Clinton and Sanders were holding private meetings with labor leaders later in the week.
The three Democratic contenders were addressing the National Council of La Raza conference in Kansas City later Monday, appealing to members of the nation's largest Latino advocacy organization.