Elizabeth Warren addresses AFL-CIO wage summit

The Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren this week hammered Washington’s leaders — Republicans and Democrats alike — for failing to help middle-class workers since the 1980s.

Warren delivered her speech at a summit on raising wages sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

“Pretty much the whole Republican Party – and if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats – have talked about the evils of `big government’ and called for deregulation,” Warren said, arguing the policies turned loose “big banks and giant international corporations” and “juiced short-term profits even if it came at the expense of working families.”

That sort of rhetoric has some liberals hoping for Warren will enter the Democratic presidential contest, a move that would likely pit her against Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party’s leading contender should she enter the campaign as is widely expected.

Warren, in her remarks, didn’t mention Clinton by name. Neither did panelist Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now, who won applause from the audience when she suggested the party was hurting itself by appearing ready to simply anoint the apparent favorite as its next presidential nominee.

“I don’t want to get in trouble, but I’ll say it anyway,” Epps-Addison said. “It starts with this idea that we have a presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, because if we don’t accept that … if we say that we demand somebody to actually meet our needs before we’re going to give them a candidate for the presidency, then that can make a difference.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady, has dominated early polls, but is being pushed by many Democrats to take a more populist stance on economic issues. Warren has resisted calls to enter the campaign, but her appearance before labor leaders served notice that she intends to influence the agenda this year.

“For more than 30 years, Washington has far too often advanced policies that hammer America’s middle class even harder,” she said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Warren “an inspiration” and said the labor organization would hold similar summits this year in the first four presidential primary states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – to advocate for policies aimed at boosting wages.

During last year’s midterm elections, Clinton touted the 1990s economic growth during her husband’s administration, noting that it helped bring prosperity to many middle-class families. She voiced support for raising the federal minimum wage and promoting paid family leave policies to help working families, particularly mothers.

Bolstering wages and household income remains at the top of the agenda for many Democrats, who acknowledge that while the labor market has begun to recover from the deep recession that began in 2008, wages have barely kept up with inflation. President Barack Obama unsuccessfully sought to increase the federal minimum wage last year but several states and big cities have taken steps to boost their minimum wages.

Warren said the economy had made strides – a soaring stock market, rising corporate profits and economic growth – but that progress had failed to translate into higher wages for workers. She said Washington leaders too often had chosen to shackle the “financial cops,” bail out Wall Street banks, sign trade deals that hurt workers and cut taxes for the wealthy.

Neera Tanden, a former Hillary Clinton policy adviser who leads the Center for American Progress, said Warren was “absolutely right,” adding the country shouldn’t be “fatalistic” about its ability to overcome economic challenges.

“So many people in Washington and in the country are pessimistic about our country’s chances and believe this kind of story out there that stagnating wages in the United States are just the way it is. That is false,” Tanden said.