Sanders takes aim at corporate America with new tax plan

Sanders takes aim at corporate America with new tax plan
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats face critical 72 hours Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Manchin nixes Medicare expansion Manchin shutting down Sanders on Medicare expansion MORE (I-Vt.) is shining a light on the U.S. tax code in the lead-up to Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate by releasing new proposals that would aggressively raise rates on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

On Monday, he called for raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 35 percent — the level it was at before President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE’s 2017 tax-cut law — and making statutory changes to prevent companies from using offshore tax havens.


His proposal also would require large corporations to give their employees stock until the businesses are at least 20 percent employee-owned and for large corporations to have 45 percent of their boards elected by workers.

“For more than 40 years, the largest and most profitable corporations in America have rigged the tax code and our economy to redistribute wealth and income to the richest and most powerful people in this country,” Sanders said in a statement. “The American people are saying enough is enough.”

The proposal comes at a key time for his campaign.

Many recent polls show Sanders in third place, trailing Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats face critical 72 hours The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats inch closer to legislative deal This week: Democrats aim to unlock Biden economic, infrastructure package MORE (D-Mass.), his biggest rival for the Democratic Party base’s liberal wing, and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act:  a bill long overdue MORE.

Like Sanders, Warren is running on a platform designed to appeal to progressives, and she has seen her stock in the Democratic primary contest rise in part because of her numerous policy proposals aimed at reducing wealth inequality and reining in corporate power.

When asked in an Associated Press interview published Monday how his corporate-accountability plan sets him apart from Warren, Sanders replied, “I’ll let Sen. Warren speak for herself. But this is an issue that we have been working on for my entire political life.”

Sanders has long been focused on revamping the tax code to make it more progressive. And while his 2016 presidential bid featured proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the rich, his 2020 campaign includes even more — and even bigger — plans.

“Sen. Sanders has been talking about income inequality and worker ownership of the economy for quite a long time,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, a progressive group that endorsed Sanders in 2016 but hasn’t yet officially backed a 2020 candidate. “What these proposals do is put some real concrete meat on the bones on the more value-focused conversations that he’s had.”

In an interview with ABC News over the weekend, Sanders distinguished himself from Warren by saying that she considers herself to be “a capitalist to her bones” and he doesn’t.

“The reason I am not is because I will not tolerate for one second the kind of greed and corruption and income and wealth inequality and so much suffering that is going on in this country today, which is unnecessary,” he said.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who is unaffiliated with any presidential campaign, said Sanders appears to be offering policy proposals in an effort to regain some of his 2016 supporters who now back Warren.

“He’s desperately trying to up the ante to bring back the progressives who supported him in 2016.” 

Additionally, Sanders released his corporate tax proposal after he had a heart attack earlier this month, prompting concerns about his health, age and ability to run against Trump.

Sroka noted that Sanders’s proposal had been in the works for a while but said that the release following the heart attack shows that Sanders is still pushing hard to become the Democratic nominee.

“What this does underscore is that the Sanders campaign is firing on all cylinders and working just as hard to win the nomination as it was a couple of weeks ago,” Sroka said. “They’re not slowing down at all.”

Monday’s tax proposal was just the latest from Sanders in recent weeks.

Last month he released plans that would create a wealth tax and tax-rate increases for companies with a significant gap between CEO pay and the pay of their median workers.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness Action Fund, said Sanders is the first 2020 Democratic candidate to offer a comprehensive corporate tax–reform plan.

He said it’s exciting to see Sanders’s plan because it’s more challenging for candidates to propose corporate tax changes than higher taxes on wealthy individuals.

“It’s harder to attack the corporate tax system because you’re attacking the corporate power in Washington, D.C.,” Clemente said.

Sanders’s proposals tend to go further than those of other White House hopefuls to hit the rich and corporations.

His proposed wealth tax would kick in at net worth over $32 million for married couples, compared with the $50 million threshold set by Warren.

Additionally, Sanders has proposed the highest corporate income tax rate among the crowded field of candidates.

Biden and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) have each floated a 28 percent rate — the same level proposed by former President Obama — while Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar'Facebook Papers' turn up heat on embattled social media platform Omar, Klobuchar lead charge seeking Congressional Gold Medal for Prince Klobuchar: 'Facebook knew' it was hurting communities MORE (D-Minn.) has called for 25 percent.

Many Democrats have said the previous 35 percent rate was too high because it wasn’t competitive with other industrialized countries.

Warren hasn’t explicitly said what the corporate income tax rate should be but has said she wants to reverse Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for large corporations. She has also proposed a 7 percent surtax on company profits above $100 million.

Sanders’s corporate accountability proposal came out just a day before Democratic presidential candidates are expected to highlight their policy plans on the debate stage in Ohio.

“I think you can certainly expect Bernie to continue to raise the urgent issue of corporate greed and corporate power and how he is best qualified to take on that greed and to represent working people in the White House,” Josh Orton, national policy director for the Sanders campaign, told The Hill.

Democratic candidates across the ideological spectrum have blasted Trump’s tax law and have called for increasing taxes on the rich and corporations, but their tax plans have not been a major focus of the other Democratic presidential debates. Progressive groups are hoping that candidates’ positions on taxes can get more attention on Tuesday.

Tax March Executive Director Maura Quint said she’s hopeful that voter interest in plans like the ones put forth will prompt the debate moderators to ask questions about a topic that oftentimes doesn’t generate the same kind of buzz as other political subjects.

Quint said she hopes the moderators see the public’s reaction to Sanders’s plan and “use that as a cue to actually talk about taxes in-depth in the debates.”