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Hillary Clinton's top 10 campaign promises

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll July 22, 2016

Including her time as first lady of Arkansas and of the nation, Hillary Clinton has spent 31 years in government life. So it's little wonder that she tends to talk about her presidency in terms of policy-heavy proposals compared with her opponent, businessman Donald J. Trump, who has never worked in government.

Clinton's website has nearly 40 pages outlining policy positions plus additional fact sheets for every proposal. Trump, the billionaire who prefers to offer his ideas and vision with broad strokes, has a website with policies, too: It's seven pages.

"Now, I confess, I confess, it’s true I can be a little wonky," Clinton said in a June 27 speech. "But I have this old-fashioned idea: If you’re running for president, you should say what you want to do and how you will get it done."

Clinton’s long and broad list of proposals tend to be incremental, offering modest improvements on the domestic policies of President Barack Obama. Her foreign policy and national security platform largely follows Obama's trajectory as well, which she helped steer as his first secretary of state. All this makes it hard to find a defining feature of Clinton’s agenda.

"She is well informed, has thought through and wrestled with a large number of issues and policy ideas, but arguably at the expense of having a big-picture orientation," said Mark Peterson, a public policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

PolitiFact has been collecting Clinton’s campaign promises from her website and public comments. We’re also following the promises of Republican nominee Trump and will track the promises of the new president whoever it is. We currently track Obama’s campaign promises on our Obameter.

We dug through Clinton’s hefty platform and identified 10 campaign promises that we think best define her bid for the presidency. For many of her promises, though, she’ll need cooperation from Congress.

1. "For families making less than $125,000 a year, we will eliminate tuition" for in-state students at public colleges.

Early on in the campaign, Clinton advocated for free tuition at community colleges. She unveiled this expanded plan as an olive branch to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders who favored his proposal for free public college across the board. Clinton’s plan would work by providing grants to the colleges.

This plan is expensive. The campaign predicts her full higher education proposal, which includes some additional debt-relief programs, will cost $350 billion over 10 years, which she plans to cover by closing tax loopholes for wealthy Americans.

Beyond the cost barrier, Clinton would have to surmount political opposition in Congress and among state governing bodies. Also, figuring out how this would play out at each individual school would be a huge challenge, said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

2. "Pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship that keeps families together."

While Trump opened his campaign with a promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Clinton started hers with a call to "offer hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families a path to citizenship."

Throughout the campaign, she said she will push for "comprehensive immigration reform" — a package that includes a path to citizenship, increasing immigration enforcement and liberalizing future immigration.

Congress has been trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform for years. Beyond the legislative hurdle, if elected, Clinton may face additional barriers to enacting immigration policy changes from the Oval Office. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court blocked some of Obama’s executive actions on immigration attempting to give legal protection to certain categories of illegal immigrants.

3. "Stand up to Republican-led attacks on this landmark (health care) law—and build on its success to bring the promise of affordable health care to more people and make a ‘public option’ possible."

In the early 1990s, Clinton, as first lady, led the White House’s push for a universal health care program. That effort failed amid a massive public relations campaign from the program’s opponents. This time around, instead of advocating for a massive overhaul of the country’s health system — which is what Sanders wanted — Clinton wants to build on Obama’s Affordable Care Act and "advance toward the goal of universal health care."

Her plan involves establishing a "public option," which would be an optional government-run insurance plan. Obama and many Democrats wanted Obamacare to include a public option in the first place, but congressional opposition and the insurance industry kept it out of the law. She would likely need a Congress that’s even further left-leaning than what Obama had in his first term to accomplish this goal.

4. "We will do everything we can to overturn Citizens United."

Clinton has said she will address campaign finance reform in her first months in office, specifically working against Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited super PAC spending. She has also said it would be a litmus test for her for any Supreme Court nominees.

Undoing Citizens United — shorthand for campaign finance reform in general — is something politicians on both sides of the aisle have endorsed. Trump himself has railed against super PACs and money in politics. Clinton has said she would consider a constitutional amendment to make this happen.

For now, Clinton is taking advantage of the campaign finance laws as they are. The Center for Public Integrity has noted that despite Clinton’s calls to address money in politics, anonymous donors have funnelled millions into numerous groups backing her nomination.

5. "Fighting for equal pay."

Clinton has embraced her role as the first female nominee for president from a major political party. In most of her campaign speeches, she recites this line: "Now Donald Trump can accuse me of playing the woman card all he wants, but if fighting for equal pay and affordable childcare and paid family leave is playing the woman card, then deal me in."

On the subject of closing the pay gap for men and women, Clinton is advocating for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which attempts to make it easier for individuals to challenge sex-based pay discrimination. Clinton introduced a version of this bill as a senator in 2007.

This bill could make a difference for people who experience illegal pay discrimination, but it won’t close the gap completely, said Jean Kimmel, an economics professor at Western Michigan University. This is because the pay discrepancy between men and women is due to numerous factors including college major, occupation and unequal division of housework and childrearing; it’s not just a problem of unequal pay for equal work.

6. "I will not raise middle-class taxes."

Clinton has a plan to take in more tax revenue, but she has said repeatedly that she will not raise taxes on the middle class. Clinton’s tax plan largely keeps the tax code as is, but she says she would hike taxes for the ultra-wealthy, for example by enacting a 4 percent surcharge on incomes over $5 million and raising certain capital gains tax rates.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that tax revenue would increase by an estimated $1.1 trillion over the next decade under Clinton’s plan. It also accomplishes her goal of not increasing taxes on the middle class.

"Nearly all of the tax increases would fall on the top 1 percent," the Tax Policy Center report said. "The bottom 95 percent of taxpayers would see little or no change in their taxes."

The free market-oriented Tax Foundation’s analysis estimated the revenue increase to be closer to $500 billion over 10 years. The report also found, though, that ultra-wealthy individuals would see the largest dip in after-tax income under Clinton’s plan, while most income brackets would feel minimal effects.

Congress has struggled to pass tax reform since the last big overhaul under President Ronald Reagan, despite regular calls for reform.

7. "Say no to attacks on working families and no to bad trade deals and unfair trade practices, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Clinton’s denouncement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of few examples of her distancing herself from the Obama administration. While she was secretary of state under Obama, she called the trade deal the "gold standard," but in the campaign, she has said "the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don't believe this agreement has met it."

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is still awaiting a vote in Congress for final ratification. Trump also opposes the trade deal, so if Congress doesn’t vote on ratification in 2016, the next president could easily derail it.

Over the course of her political career, Clinton has supported more trade deals than she’s opposed, and she is generally in favor of free trade. As president, Clinton says she would "say ‘no’ to new trade agreements unless they create American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security."  

8. "We’re going to increase the federal minimum wage."

Clinton says she supports increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 an hour nationwide. But usually in her campaign stump speeches, Clinton does not name a specific amount.

When Sanders was in the campaign, he distinguished himself by calling for a $15 an hour wage, and now the 2016 Democratic Party platform (to be finalized at the Democratic National Convention) calls for the same.

Clinton herself has also shown support for the Fight for $15 campaign that pushes for higher minimums in individual states and cities, and in June 2015 she spoke with a gathering of Fight for $15 members via phone and told them she supported their campaign.

Again, raising the minimum wage would require action from Congress.

9. "As president, Hillary will expand background checks to more gun sales."

The national debate over gun violence has been particularly prominent throughout this election, and Clinton has made that a focal point of her campaign. She has pledged to close "the gun show loophole, close the online loophole," and "go after what's called the Charleston loophole." All three are aspects of current federal gun laws that allow people in specific situations to purchase guns without undergoing some sort of background check.

Although she has been a long-time advocate for more stringent gun control, "Hillary’s position on guns are fairly standard for a Democrat," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at left-leaning think tank Third Way.

He said her proposals are in line with what the pro-gun control advocacy groups have pushed for for years, and they do not offer any sort of compromises to make pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association any more likely to support her or her proposals.

10. "Clinton would increase federal infrastructure funding by $275 billion over a five-year period."

Clinton’s infrastructure plan is part of her pledge to "make the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II" within her first 100 days. Most of the spending, $250 billion, would go toward direct infrastructure investments — things like maintaining airports, bridges and highways — while the remaining $25 billion would fund an infrastructure bank, which would bring in private capital for public works.

Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has noted that the plan likely won’t be enough to fix the country’s infrastructure problems, given that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates there will be a $1.6 trillion infrastructure funding gap by 2020.

Bernstein also pointed out that Clinton is planning to pay for this program by raising new tax revenue. So if she can’t get enough pieces of her tax plan passed, her infrastructure plan likely won’t happen, either.

The political challenge

The primary barrier standing between Clinton’s proposals and their execution is congressional action. When asked whether certain policy ideas were feasible, nearly every expert responded that the question is hard to answer given uncertainty about what this historic presidential election means for Congress.

Clinton and her supporters regularly tout her record of working with Republicans, as well as her promise to have intimate negotiations with them over drinks.

But the partisan divide might be too strong to overcome. As of July 20, market-based source PredictWise projects a 59 percent chance that the Democrats will take the Senate this fall, but it seems the GOP is likely to maintain control of the House, though it is in play.

"As president, she would pursue a consensus approach, trying to reach out to Republicans, but retaining her focus on issues of inequality, women's rights, children and social justice," said William Chafe, a political science professor at Duke University who has written a book about the Clintons. "Can she succeed? Only with a huge Democratic victory."

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Our Sources

Clinton campaign, issues pages, last accessed July 20, 2016

Clinton campaign, "Briefing" fact sheets, last accessed July 20, 2016

Hillary Speeches, "Hillary Clinton’s Broad Presidential Platform," July 9, 2016

Nexis transcript search, conducted July 14, 2016

CQ transcript search, conducted July 14, 2016

Email interview, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin, July 14, 2016

Email interview, UCLA public policy professor Mark Peterson, July 14, 2016

Email interview, Duke political science professor William Chafe, July 14, 2016

Email interview, Cato immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh, July 19, 2016

Email interview, George Washington University health policy professor Sara Rosenbaum, July 18, 2016

Phone and email interview, Western Michigan University economics professor Jean Kimmel, July 19, 2016

Phone interview, AASCU director of federal relations and policy analysis Barmak Nassirian, July 20, 2016

Phone interview, Third Way senior vice president for policy Jim Kessler, July 5, 2016

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Hillary Clinton's top 10 campaign promises