WARREN, Ohio – Hillary Rodham Clinton slammed Barack Obama during an appearance at a General Motors plant here on Thursday for what she charged was a lack of a record of achievement on the economy.
But as both Democratic presidential candidates announced comprehensive economic plans this week, they advocated similar visions on what has become the single biggest issue for voters in the 2008 campaign.
Clinton and Obama both promise to make the tax code more middle-income friendly and protect consumers from threats real and imagined – from predatory credit card companies to rapacious college lenders. Both condemn corporate tax breaks they say send jobs overseas. Both pledge to protect homeowners and say they would repeal President Bush’s upper-income tax cuts while extending those targeting the middle class. Both pledged to rein in credit card companies that arbitrarily raise interest rates, sending families into a downward spiral of rising debt.
“I’ve been looking for ways to differentiate these two, and it hasn’t been easy,” said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. This week’s economic speeches do not “make it a whole lot easier,” he added.
Despite their similarities, Clinton, anxious to generate positive news about her campaign, went on the offensive during her tour of an automotive plant. She sharpened her line of attack against Obama and what she argues is his lack of substance.
“Over the years you’ve heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches,” Clinton told a group of factory workers. “Speeches don’t put food on the table. Speeches don’t fill up your tank. Speeches don’t fill your prescriptions.”
Clinton continued: “That’s the difference between me and my Democratic opponent. My opponent makes speeches. I offer solutions.”
But even with the economy teetering on the edge of recession and both Democrats eager to win in union-heavy Ohio – not to mention, they both hope, the endorsement of former Sen. John Edwards in the days ahead – neither Clinton nor, a day earlier, Obama swerved into an overt populist appeal. Where John Kerry castigated “Benedict Arnold CEOs” four years ago, Clinton and Obama seem to be channeling the Bill Clinton of 1992.
“I won’t stand here and tell you that we can – or should – stop free trade. We can’t stop every job from going overseas,” Obama told GM workers on Wednesday, just hours after the company offered thousands of buyouts. “But I also won’t stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements.”
For Clinton, the new emphasis on the economy allowed her Thursday to push policies that aligned with the core of her message: that she would help ordinary voters.
Clinton’s proposals are tailor-made for an industrial heartland hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs and crippled by mortgage defaults and rising debt. She would rescue the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a federal-local partnership program for small manufacturers perpetually targeted for elimination by President Bush, and impose an immediate cap on credit card interest rates and stop credit card companies from raising interest rates without warning or applying new, higher rates to old transactions.
And she would establish a new Financial Product Safety Commission – similar to the Consumer Product Safety Commission – empowered to crack down on abusive lending practices in the credit card, auto loan and mortgage market.
To lower college tuition costs, she vowed to crack down on student lenders that shower college financial aid officers with gifts, stock options and trips in exchange for steering students to captive lending markets.
Many of those plans mirror Obama promises. To pay for some of them, both candidates pledged to eliminate tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.