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Hillary Clinton prepares to unveil her economic policy

Democratic front-runner must navigate fissure in the party on issues like Wall Street, trade and taxation

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will soon hold her first major rally as a presidential candidate in New York City, where she is expected to lay out the rationale for her candidacy and elaborate on her policy positions.

Speaking from Roosevelt Island on Saturday, Clinton is expected to invoke the New Deal legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as she lays out the four pillars of her platform, including building a modernized economy, strengthening families and communities, getting unaccountable money out of politics and protecting the country from threats, according to multiple reports.

As her nascent campaign has worked to ignite the Democratic base on social issues, however, the larger question of where she stands on economic policy lingers.

Since officially launching her campaign in April, Clinton has staked out stridently liberal positions on a number of societal problems. In a speech at Columbia University, she proposed broad criminal justice reform, calling for “an end to the era of mass incarceration” and noting the debilitating societal effects of warehousing millions of prisoners. She has pleased immigration activists by vowing to go even further on reform than President Obama, calling for congressional action while also saying she would not hesitate to expand the president's executive actions extending deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. Recently, she called for sweeping changes to voter laws, proposing universal registration for all at the age of 18 and extended early voting. 

On economic questions, the campaign has been far more reticent to delve into specifics thus far, although the rally is intended to illuminate her positions.

Will Marshall, president of Washington-based think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, which worked closely with the first Clinton administration, said those economic questions may be the more difficult ones to answer given the split in the Democratic Party between those concerned with economic growth and those more focused on income inequality. Although there is broad consensus in the party about raising the minimum wage and ensuring pay equity among men and women, there is more dissension on issues such as Wall Street regulation, taxation and trade deals.

“I think you’re seeing Democrats fairly united on social issues but where there are significant differences of emphasis is economic policy and the role of government. I think any Democrat running has to be aware of the fissures within their own party’s coalition,” Marshall said. “On the pro-growth side, where I put us, the view is that the number one issue is slow growth and how to get out of it and how to put the country on a high growth trajectory. And on the populist side, you hear more on income inequality and economic justice, and a very strong emphasis on redistributional policies.”

Although the populist wing of the party has been more vocal recently in championing their causes, Marshall said Clinton would be wise to not alienate moderates, independents and swing voters in the process of wooing progressive activists.

“There’s always a danger that if you go too far toward the populist pole you will start making moderates and independents restive, that they won't be certain you’re talking to them and maybe saying things that scare them off. I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

Progressive activists, however, say they will continue to press Clinton to adopt their values and positions.

“We’re excited to see that she’s speaking to the issues that millions of American care deeply about. We’re still just at the very beginning, we sort of feel like this conversation has just begun,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of the progressive advocacy organization, Moveon.Org. “There’s a huge imbalance in our economy where so much of our wealth and income and political power has flown to the top and she’s started speaking to the issues of inequality and a rigged system, but we think there’s a lot of ground to cover… from Wall Street regulation to more details about what she hopes to change about the role of money in politics and the type of trade deals she would support.”

Even as the Clinton campaign works to soothe her liberal critics, there is reason for some skepticism, said Dean Baker, co-director of the left-leaning Center for Economic Policy and Research.

Clinton’s challenger from the left, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has spent his career pushing progressive economic policy and outlined a number of detailed proposals during his short stint as a presidential candidate, from a tax on financial transactions that would heavily impact Wall Street to debt-free college. Clinton, on the other hand, is most closely associated with the record of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, whose economic legacy many progressives have turned away from.

“She doesn’t really have a history of being associated with progressive economic policy,” Baker said. “I think it’s reasonable for people to ask ‘What’s your track record? What reason do people have to believe that you will forward these policies in office?’”

CORRECTION: an earlier version of this article misidentified the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. He is Will Marshall. 

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