The day before a debate where Sen. Bernie Sanders will make his first formal appearance since his recent heart attack, he released a plan on “corporate greed and corruption” that would impose far-reaching rules on the country’s largest corporations, forcing them to share profits and power with their workers.

The plan, which would probably face substantial pushback from Republicans and corporations, is the latest flag planted by Sanders (I-Vt.) at the leftmost boundary of the Democratic field. It comes as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been siphoning support from Sanders among the party’s most liberal voters, a group that belonged solely to Sanders in 2016.

Democrats at Sanders’s campaign events often express approval of both his policies and Warren’s, citing their similar anti-establishment views. But Warren’s support has been climbing while Sanders’s has been fading, and polls suggest that while the senator from Vermont is cementing support from his core followers with his purist plans, Warren may be benefiting from the perception that she is not the most radical figure in the Democratic field.

AD
AD

Even President Trump weighed in on Sanders’s predicament Friday at a rally in Louisiana, wishing him a speedy recovery while opining that if Sanders does not win the Democratic nomination most of his supporters will probably go to Warren.

As the two senators jockey for position in the Democratic field, they have been reluctant to attack each other directly for fear of alienating each other’s supporters, and they often call each other friends.

But in an interview Sunday at his home in Burlington, Vt., Sanders was pressed by ABC’s Jon Karl to draw a line between him and Warren, and he did so, albeit with apparent reluctance.

“Elizabeth has said she is a capitalist through to her bones. I’m not,” Sanders said. “I am, I believe, the only candidate who is going to say to the ruling class of this country, the corporate elite, ‘Enough. Enough with your greed and your corruption.’ ”

AD
AD

Monday’s plan is the second proposal Sanders has issued since being sidelined from the trail that seeks to cut corporate influence. The first plan targeted corporate money in politics, while the latest proposal takes a more comprehensive swing at the way corporations treat workers, pay taxes, and interact with each other.

The centerpiece of the plan aims to dramatically shift control over U.S. corporations from Wall Street shareholders to tens of millions of workers who currently have little say in the management of the companies where they work.

Sanders proposes forcing all publicly traded companies, as well as all private companies with more than $100 million in revenue, to give their workers at least 45 percent of the seats on their corporate boards — going further than a similar idea from Warren, who has called for giving workers 40 percent of those seats.

AD
AD

Beyond that, Sanders would require the companies to issue a portion of their stock holdings to a fund controlled by workers. These worker-controlled shares — Sanders calls them “Democratic Employee Ownership Funds” — would give employees a percentage of the dividends paid out by the corporation.

Sanders takes a step beyond Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, by calling for corporations to turn over at least 20 percent of their shares to these worker funds, compared to 10 percent for Corbyn. The workers would then elect a board to manage and disburse the shares.

The plan would amount to a sweeping transformation of the American economy and empower workers in a far-reaching new way. But critics say it would also give businesses an incentive to hire contractors instead of full-time employees, potentially hurting workers rather than helping them.

AD
AD

Currently, about 7,000 companies in the United States are set up to allow employees to own a substantial share of their businesses, representing about 11 million workers, according to Joseph R. Blasi and Douglas L. Kruse of Rutgers University.

Sanders’s plan would aim to give an additional 56 million workers, in more than 22,000 companies, a share of their businesses. The campaign says workers at McDonald’s, for example, would ultimately control 20 percent of its stock and 45 percent of the vote on its management decisions.

“What we want is democracy within the workplace, so the decisions aren’t all being made by a tiny number of people,” said Peter Gowan, a senior policy associate at the Democracy Collaborative, a left-leaning think tank, who worked with the Sanders campaign on the proposal.

AD
AD

Sanders also proposes some smaller measures designed to increase worker control of the economy, such as a $500 million bank for employees who want to buy or start their own firms and the creation of “worker ownership centers” to help employees manage their own companies.

Sanders also offered a sweeping set of antitrust policies, including a new “bright line” that would bar mergers of companies with too much market share. Warren has released antitrust plans related to agriculture and big tech, according to Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Institute, but not a comprehensive antitrust plan.

Sanders also proposes some smaller measures designed to increase worker control of the economy, such as a $500 million bank for employees who want to buy or start their own firms and the creation of “worker ownership centers” to help employees manage their own companies.

AD
AD

Sanders also offered a sweeping set of antitrust policies, including a new “bright line” that would bar mergers of companies that dominate too much market share. Warren has released antitrust plans related to agriculture and big tech, according to Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Institute, but not a comprehensive antitrust plan.

The plan reflects in part the battle to construct the left’s agenda, as Sanders and Warren vie for liberal voters. Both candidates have come under fire from the business community for their ideas, including the criticism that they would discourage entrepreneurs from starting businesses and would prompt investors to put their money overseas.

Jim Kessler, senior vice president of policy at the centrist think tank Third Way, has said such plans may do little for custodial or food service workers, who are often on contract. A Sanders campaign aide has said the senator has introduced legislation to prevent misclassification of workers as contractors.

AD
AD

Plans to boost employee-owned businesses have earned some interest from lawmakers in both parties, albeit with narrower measures. Republican Sens. Pat Roberts (Kan.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.), for instance, have pushed legislation to encourage technical assistance and other help for such firms.

Sanders’s plan would also repeal the 2017 GOP tax cut for corporations, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Many congressional Democrats also favor raising the corporate tax rate, though few want to raise it as much as Sanders.

Under his plan, America’s corporate tax rate would be among the highest in the world. Corporate tax rates have fallen globally, including in the European countries often cited as a model by Sanders, with Sweden and Norway both taxing firms below 25 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

AD
AD

The recent populist surge has prompted some in both parties to look for ways to cut the power of government and corporations. Sanders’s supporters say his approach would provide much-needed influence to ordinary Americans, but conservatives argue that raising corporate taxes would ultimately hurt those same people.

“Corporations might write the tax check to the government, but the tax is borne by consumers, workers and shareholders,” said Nicole Kaeding, vice president of policy promotion at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. Raising the rate to 35 percent, she said, “would result in a smaller U.S. economy and lower wages.”

jeffrey.stein@washpost.com