Hillary Clinton vowed Thursday to kill the Pacific trade deal that she helped push just a few years ago as President Obama’s top diplomat, hoping to win over wavering liberals and steal some of the anti-trade thunder from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Mrs. Clinton also promised an expansive role for the government in managing the U.S. economy, calling for higher taxes to fund more infrastructure, more regulations to rein in Wall Street, a new phase of Obamacare, a round of school construction and incentives to get businesses to hire blue-collar workers and do more manufacturing in the U.S.
The Democratic presidential nominee took pages from Mr. Obama’s economic plans, echoing his calls for an infrastructure bank and a clean energy surge. Still, she kept the president at arm’s length by acknowledging “very real economic challenges” throughout his eight years in office.
“There is too much inequality, too little upward mobility. It is just too hard to get ahead today,” she said. “But there are common-sense things that your government could do that would give Americans more opportunities to succeed.”
Her solutions also borrowed from Sen. Bernard Sanders, big-business advocates and even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, resulting in an economic plan that tried to offer a little of something to everyone.
For college students, she promised debt-free tuition. For those who don’t want to go to college, she said the government should help them learn skills. For struggling communities, she said she would expand a controversial tax credit. For those worried about income disparity, she said she would impose a minimum tax to force the wealthy to pony up. For those upset over the Wall Street crash, she promised more financial regulations. For small businesses, she said she would simplify their taxes so it’s “as easy as printing out a bank statement.”
Nowhere was she more adamant, though, than in rejecting the free trade spirit that her husband pioneered as a new kind of Democrat in the 1990s and that Mr. Obama continued during his tenure.
“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she said. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election and I’ll oppose it as president.”
She said she voted against the only multilateral trade deal to come before the Senate during her tenure but glossed over the rest of her record, including support for six bilateral trade deals, most-favored status for Chinese trade and her husband’s implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.
Liberal groups were thrilled that she went so far in denouncing the TPP, one of Mr. Obama’s chief foreign policy objectives, and said her speech overall was the kind of leftward shift they wanted to see after she defeated Mr. Sanders in the primary.
“Today’s speech shows that getting some Republicans to say Donald Trump is unfit to be president is not mutually exclusive with Clinton running on bold progressive ideas like debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits, Wall Street reform, and a public health insurance option,” said Adam Green, a founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
On infrastructure and trade, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are competing to outdo each other.
Mr. Trump told CNBC on Thursday that he would more than double the $250 billion investment that Mrs. Clinton envisions, and he encouraged massive government borrowing now.
“The interest rates are so low — the numbers are so low — that yes, this is a time to borrow and to borrow long-term,” he said, ticking off spending on the military, veterans, and roads and bridges as areas where the government should go deeper into debt.
But despite their areas of agreement, Mrs. Clinton said voters should be wary of Mr. Trump, who she said built his empire by jilting small-business owners. She pointed to contractors she said worked for Mr. Trump who, when they went to collect, were told to scram — and who didn’t have the kinds of resources to force legal fights with Mr. Trump.
“It wasn’t because Trump couldn’t pay them; it was because he wouldn’t pay them,” she said. “That’s not how we do business in America.”
Republicans warned voters to be wary of Mrs. Clinton’s promises because her record suggests she would embrace free trade once in office.
Her eight years in the Senate earned Mrs. Clinton a lifetime rating of 46 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — putting her in the middle of the pack of her Democratic colleagues at the time. Some Southern Democrats posted much higher ratings, while liberal stalwarts in the Northeast and Rust Belt — including Sens. Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden — posted lower scores.
Mrs. Clinton scored well on votes that called for federal investment, but her Chamber of Commerce score suffered based on votes in which she backed union interests, additional red tape or environmental regulations that business groups said would stifle free enterprise.
The National Federal of Independent Business, the chief lobby for small businesses in the U.S., welcomed Mrs. Clinton’s call for easier tax filings and less red tape but said she should detail exactly which of Mr. Obama’s regulations she would end.
Juanita Duggan, president of the business federation, said Mrs. Clinton’s flat rejection of a rate cut for the top income brackets will hurt small businesses, most of which file their taxes that way.
“Cutting their taxes means letting them reinvest in growth and jobs. That’s precisely what the economy needs,” Ms. Duggan said. “We would urge the secretary to reconsider her opposition to reducing small-business income taxes.”