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Clinton lays out plan to help American workers

Story highlights

  • Clinton gave a nod to the fact that she supported major trade deals that some Democrats believe have hurt American workers
  • Both Clinton and Sanders are fighting for Michigan, a state that votes on Tuesday
Watch CNN's Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, at 8 p.m. ET Sunday. The event will be live-streamed online at CNN.com and simulcast on CNN International and CNN en Espanol.

Detroit (CNN)Hillary Clinton laid out a sweeping plan to boost American workers while speaking at a car part manufacturing plant in Detroit on Friday, pledging to punish companies that leave the United States, boost unions and enforce trade policies.

In what her campaign billed as major policy address on the economy and jobs, Clinton gave a nod to the fact that she supported major trade deals that some Democrats believe have hurt American workers, while defending herself against stepped-up attacks on the issue from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her opponent in the Democratic race.
    "On the Democratic side, we agree on a number of things. But I don't think we can answer that question by re-fighting battles from 20 years ago," Clinton said in a nod to the fact she backed the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal that Sanders has cited to attack the former first lady.
    Clinton added, "Anyone running for president owes it to you to come up with real ideas, not an ideology, not an old set of talking points, but a credible strategy designed for the world we live in now. And that is exactly what I am here today to do."
    Clinton also knocked Sanders for standing with Republicans and voting against Export-Import Bank and the New Market Tax Credit.
    "That doesn't make sense to me," Clinton said. "We should never let ideology get in the way of helping Americans find a good job they need and deserve."
    After big wins on Super Tuesday -- and armed with a sizable delegate lead -- Clinton and her aides hope to put Sanders away this month by making it nearly impossible for him to win enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
    Both Clinton and Sanders are fighting for Michigan, a state that votes on Tuesday. Each will headline events in the state over the next three days and CNN will host a Democratic debate on Sunday in Flint.
    Flanked by workers sporting orange safety vests, Clinton proposed an exit tax that would punish companies for moving their headquarters overseas while still benefiting from U.S. laws and said that in a Clinton White House, companies who left the United States after taking federal or state tax breaks would be required to pay them back.
    "If you aren't going to invest in us, why should taxpayers invest in you?" Clinton said.
    Clinton also knocked the way trade policies are currently being enforced.
    "Looking back over the past decades as globalization picked up steam, there is no doubt that the benefits of trade has not been as widely enjoyed as many predicted," Clinton said, an acknowledgment to working-class Democrats who believe free trade deals she's backed, particularly NAFTA, have not benefited many American workers.
    Trade has emerged as a key flashpoint between Clinton and Sanders. As he traveled across Michigan on Friday, he escalated his criticism of trade agreements she has supported over the years.
    "If voters of Michigan want to know who stood with voters against disastrous trade agreements, that candidate is Bernie Sanders," the Vermont senator said, drawing cheers at a stop in Traverse City.
    Clinton said she would require trade disputes to be enforced from the beginning of the grievances, not afterwards. And she said she would come down especially hard on China, who she called the "worst rule-breaker in the world" when it comes to trade.
    "When it comes to trade deals, here is my standard: I won't support any agreement unless it helps create good jobs and higher wages for American workers and protects our national security," Clinton said. "I need to be able to look into the eyes of any hard-working American anywhere in our country and say, 'This deal will help raise your income.'"
    Clinton's proposals, however, soon came under scrutiny.
    Experts were skeptical that Clinton's tax provisions would create good-paying jobs in the U.S. Instead of fostering "economic patriotism," they are more designed to punish companies that send operations or profits overseas.
    "She's applying all the sticks," said Martin Sullivan, chief economist with Tax Analysts. "I don't see any carrots."
    Threatening to claw back tax credits also might spur some companies to pull back on their research, added Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center.
    And the Republican National Committee quickly attacked Clinton's economic plan.
    "Hillary Clinton is running on Obamanomics 2.0, but under President Obama, the nation has lost more than 230,000 manufacturing jobs while the middle class and incomes keep shrinking," said Michael Short, an RNC spokesman. "Even her tax plan that borrows heavily from President Obama's failed budgets is a loser, with economists from both sides of the aisle warning about its negative impact on economic growth."