Bernie Sanders’s early primary success has the business community fretting about the anti-inequality economic policies he would champion if he wins the White House and starting to speak out against him.
“I’m afraid, eventually, that the middle class and small businesses will suffer,” said small businessman Josh Malone, who invented Bunch O Balloons, a device that fills 100 balloons with water and ties them within a minute.
Malone is not alone in his assessment of Sanders. A majority of small-business owners favor President Trump winning the White House over Sanders come November, 52% to 48%, respectively, according to a recent poll by Gallup and payment processor Square Inc. The same poll showed small-business owners favoring former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a head-to-head matchup against Trump, 52% to 48%.
Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was the first high-profile businessman out of the gate on Wednesday, following Sanders’s victory in New Hampshire, to criticize the Vermont senator. Blankfein tweeted that Sanders is “as polarizing as Trump” and that his policies will “ruin our economy.” He also said that Russia should “go with Sanders this time around” if they want to “screw up the US.”
Trump on Wednesday admitted that he would rather face Bloomberg in November than Sanders.
“Frankly, I would rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders because Sanders has real followers, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not,” he said.
In the swing state of Florida, Sanders loses ground among small-business owners when facing Trump. Only 40% of respondents backed him while the president won 60%, according to a different Square poll.
For Malone, his issue with Sanders is the tax increases he supports.
“That sort of money is not just sitting around to be turned over; it’s got to come from somewhere. It’s going to affect [economic] growth,” he said, adding, “I don’t think there are enough resources to accomplish his plans without tapping into the middle class.”
One account from a conservative budget expert shows Sanders’s priorities costing an additional $97.5 trillion in government spending over the next decade. In comparison, the federal government is currently projected to spend $60.7 trillion between now and 2030, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the right-of-center Tax Foundation, said that Sanders’s proposals are getting attention on Capitol Hill, where legislators and aides wonder if the plans are feasible.
“There is widespread concern about the whole workability on any potential effects of any particular tax proposal,” he said, adding that “there definitely is attention on the cumulative size on what someone like Sen. Sanders is proposing.”
For big businesses, criticizing Sanders is risky because it could have the side effect of boosting him in the Democratic primary. A recent example is what happened when the Super PAC Democratic Majority for Israel ran an ad against Sanders saying that he could not beat Trump in a general election. His campaign said it raised more than $1.3 million because of the ad, according to the New York Times.
At a certain point, though, the reward of opposing Sanders is worth the risk of seeing an attack backfire.
William Cohan, the author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World and a former investment banker, said that supporting Sanders for president is a “bridge too far” for many business and Wall Street executives.
“I’ve had more than one Wall Street guy and more than one corporate CEO say, ‘Look, Bernie and Elizabeth Warren — I can’t go there. It’s a bridge too far,’” he said in an appearance on CNBC. “‘I can do Pete [Buttigieg]. I can do [Amy] Klobuchar, or I can do Bloomberg. I cannot do Bernie or Elizabeth Warren, and, therefore, the devil I know, as much as I hate him, is better. His economic policies, I can live with — I can muddle through for another four years.’”
David McIntosh, president of the pro-business organization Club for Growth, said that it’s still too early for most businesses to react to the prospect of a Sanders administration but that more will speak out if it appears he is on course to win the nomination. “If Bernie looks like he is going to become the nominee in June, that could put the brakes on economic expansion,” he said.
In addition to major new taxes, Sanders’s platform also includes Medicare for All, free public college, and a sweeping Green New Deal environmental overhaul.
Former BP CEO Bob Dudley recently told CNBC that Sanders’s climate change plan was “unrealistic.”
“They have a completely unrealistic idea of the complexity of the global energy system,” he recently told CNBC.
Sanders responded to the comment by tweeting that Dudley was “unrealistic” to think that the senator would allow fossil fuel companies “to destroy the planet.”
Of course, Sanders’s campaign promises won’t translate directly into law.
“It’s almost like what you’re seeing from a presidential candidate is an opening bid,” said Mark Mazur, former Treasury Department assistant secretary for tax policy in the Obama administration and current director of the Brookings Tax Policy Center. “I think you get ahead of yourself a little bit in trying to speculate what a Sanders administration would be able to accomplish legislatively.”
This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a top campaign representative, acknowledged that Sanders would not be able to enact all the items in his agenda, a point that could assuage business fears. In particular, the New York Democrat noted, Sanders might have to compromise rather than insist on Medicare for All.
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