WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton pointed to the 1990s as a time of broad-based prosperity under her husband, former President Bill Clinton, contrasting it Friday with policies under Republicans that she said promoted tax cuts for the wealthy and the emergence of "an entire shadow banking system."
The potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate offered her most extensive remarks on the economy since departing the State Department as the nation's top diplomat, portraying her husband's two terms in the White House as a period of steady job growth and opportunity for many Americans.
Clinton's speech to the New America Foundation came as President Barack Obama has pushed policies to address economic inequality and make higher wages a key issue for Democrats in the fall midterm elections. It also came as some liberal Democrats have backed a brand of economic populism espoused by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and questioned whether the former first lady is too close to Wall Street.
Republicans have signaled that they would make a generational argument against Clinton if she runs for president, arguing that she represents the past. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in New Hampshire recently that Democrats were "threatening to nominate someone now who wants to take us to the past — to an era that's gone and never coming back."
But Clinton's speech showed that Democrats could try to portray that era as a model. Offering a brief history lesson, Clinton touted the creation of nearly 23 million jobs during her husband's administration along with measures to raise the minimum wage and provide health insurance for children — "all with a balanced budget that resulted in surpluses as far as the eye could see."
The eight years that followed, Clinton said, offered lessons of how budget surpluses could turn into deficits and "what happens when your only policy prescription is to cut taxes for the wealthy." She did not mention President George W. Bush by name but said during that time the nation had to "deal with the aftermath of a terrible terrorist attack and two wars without paying for them. Regulators neglected their oversight of the financial sector and allowed the evolution of an entire shadow banking system that operated without accountability."
Clinton credited Obama, her one-time rival, for "painstaking work and strong leadership" to help get the economy growing again and said there are reasons to be optimistic about the country's future. But she said the nation needs "big ideas" and Americans need to find ways to compromise and "make pragmatic decisions."
Her remarks offered parallels to a recent speech by her husband at Georgetown University, in which the former president spoke at length about his administration's efforts to create millions of jobs and pull people out of poverty. Borrowing a phrase often used by Bill Clinton, the former first lady said the nation had always allowed Americans who "work hard and play by the rules" to gain opportunities to succeed.
"Unfortunately it's no secret that for too many families in America today, that isn't the way it works any more. Instead of getting ahead, they're finding it harder than ever to get their footing," Clinton said. "The dream of upward mobility that made this country the model for the world feels further and further out of reach and many Americans understandably feel frustrated and even angry."
Democrats are closely watching Clinton's words for clues on whether she might seek the White House in 2016 and to what extent she will help candidates this year. She attended her first political event of the year on Thursday, raising money for Marjorie Margolies, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania and is the mother-in-law of the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea.
Hillary Clinton said Americans will have choices about "which path they want to go down" in the fall elections but said, "I will leave that discussion to others." The former senator from New York cited the work that she is doing at her family's foundation, where she has launched projects on early childhood education and the promotion of women and girls around the globe.
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