Story highlights

Hillary Clinton gives an economic policy address on Monday

She pushed for increasing wages as well as policies like paid family and sick leave

New York, New York CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton pledged to rein in out-of-control financial institutions on Monday as she detailed an economic vision that she said would achieve the “defining economic challenge of our life” of lifting middle-class wages.

The Democratic front-runner lambasted a marketplace she said is too obsessed with second-to-second stock trading and quarterly earnings reports, at the expense of long-term growth and stability in a speech that was heavy on politics and light on policy specifics.

Clinton even took a veiled shot at President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to prosecute individuals for banking crimes in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn.

She accused hedge funds and high-frequency traders of “criminal behavior,” and promised to “prosecute individuals as well as firms” when they break the law – which liberals have long clamored for, but the Obama administration largely didn’t do. She also said she’d seek to expand on the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law designed to prevent future economic crises.

“‘Too big to fail’ is still too big a problem,” Clinton said.

The assault on Wall Street pleased liberal groups that have often criticized Clinton. “There were notable overtures to the Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics, and nothing major for the dwindling DLC corporate crowd – which shows that Clinton sees a rising economic populist tide in our politics and wants to be part of it,” said Adam Green, a founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee who has at times been a thorn in Clinton’s side.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Allison Moore, meanwhile, hit Clinton for failing to explain how she’d pay for the policies she’s championing. Moore said that “it’s pretty clear: she will have to raise taxes on American families. If she doesn’t raise taxes, then she will have to break her promises.

“That’s Clintonomics: tax hikes or broken promises,” she said. “There’s no way around it.”

Held at The New School, a university in lower Manhattan, the event was billed as Clinton’s first major economic policy speech. She touched a long list of items she’ll expound on in additional events over the summer, and included several sections – including the attack on Wall Street – that could help blunt the progressive dissatisfaction demonstrated in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rapid rise up the Democratic primary polls.

But Clinton didn’t mention Sanders at all – and instead, she went after her potential Republican rivals.

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She laced the speech with assaults on three leading GOP presidential candidates: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for his comment that some Americans should work more hours; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for a tax plan she said would benefit only the wealthy; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for battling with labor unions.

Those attacks signaled that Clinton believes her way to winning the Democratic nomination is by proving she’s best able to take on Bush and other top Republicans in a general election, rather than locking horns with primary challengers.

“For 35 years, Republicans have argued that if we give more wealth to those at the top by cutting their taxes and letting big corporations write their own rules, it will trickle down – it will trickle down to everyone else,” Clinton said.

Her attack on Bush was the sharpest. Clinton pointed to his comment that some Americans who work in a part-time economy need to take on more hours and said: “They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.”

She said two Democratic presidents before – Obama and Bill Clinton – have been charged with rescuing an economy that GOP presidents left in shambles.

She praised Obama for bailing out the automotive industry and expanding access to health insurance. And she joked about her husband’s title, while lauding his record.

“Under President Clinton – I like the sound of that – America saw the longest peace-time expansion in our history,” Clinton said. “Nearly 23 million jobs, a balanced budget and a surplus for the future. And most importantly, incomes rose across the board, not just for those already at the top.”

Clinton’s speech was the product of more than 200 meetings between her policy team and a roster of outside advisers that includes economists like Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. Clinton took many of the meetings herself, aides said.

Drawing on decades of research, Clinton said the evolution of the “gig economy” – represented by companies like the ride-sharing Uber and housing renter Airbnb, which she made opaque references to without mentioning by name – and said it has undercut the stability and security that jobs have traditionally offered.

Clinton said she favors tax reforms that would give companies incentives to share their profits with employees. She pitched an American infrastructure bank, as well as a renewed focus on clean energy and tax relief for small businesses. And she previewed her upcoming policy pitches on child care, paid sick leave and paid family leave.

“Many of these proposals are time-tested and more than a little battle-scarred,” she said.

Clinton is attemping to counter what she sees as a conservative-driven narrative in American politics that intervening in the economy on behalf of the middle class stymies job growth.

“That’s really not what the weight of economic evidence shows,” said Heather Boushey, who has consulted with Clinton’s campaign and is the executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “You can’t accept a trade-off anymore that doesn’t seem to hold water.”

Boushey said Clinton is “laying out an agenda that looks at what inequality means for families up and down the income distribution, what we can do to fix it, and it’s really exciting to see a politician take up a very serious set of research ideas and bring them into the public debate.”

Her policy team is headed by Jake Sullivan, a former top aide to Clinton at the State Department and U.S. negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks, as well as Ann O’Leary and Maya Harris, who both worked at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Outside advisers have included a host of liberal economists, former government officials and more. Among them are the Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, top Obama economic policy aides Gene Sperling, Christina Romer, David Kamin and Alan Krueger.

Neera Tanden, a top 2008 Clinton campaign aide and now president of the Center for American Progress, was among the outside advisers, as were former Bill Clinton economist Alan Blinder, and economists Jacob Hacker, Ronnie Chatterji and Boushey.