One thing Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and President Donald Trump have in common is a shared distaste for Jeff Bezos and/or his company Amazon. Although it is likely for different reasons, each has taken swipes at Bezos this year. Trump has done it via Twitter, and now Sanders has moved from ranting speeches on the campaign trail to legislative action. In theory, what he proposes with his Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Bill is arguably a good idea. The biggest problem it faces is his submitted bill is sloppy, missing any real evidence to back up his claims, and as is, serves to do nothing but put his name in the press.
The condensed version of the six-page bill, which can be viewed on Scribd, takes aim at the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to impose a tax on employers whose employees receive certain federal benefits and for other purposes. Sanders’ aim is to say that the code needs to be amended in a manner that counts the federal assistance that is received by a corporation’s employees also be counted as federal assistance for the corporation. For example, if Company Widget has 100 of their 1,500 employees that receive food stamps, WIC, SNAP, or some form of federal assistance, the total amount of money those 100 employees receive in assistance, Company Widget has to pay to the federal government.
“IMPOSITION OF CORPORATE WELFARE TAX.— There is hereby imposed on each large employer a tax equal to 100 percent of the qualified employee benefits with respect to such employer for the taxable year.”
Tomorrow I am introducing legislation to end the absurdity of working class Americans having to subsidize large, profitable corporations, many of which are owned by billionaires like Jeff Bezos. https://t.co/YfoPCAqK3I— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 5, 2018
The idea behind this, for Sanders specifically, is fairly obvious by the name of the bill BEZOS. He is alleging that Amazon, and Walmart as well, purposefully underpay their employees, forcing them to rely on federal assistance programs to survive. This is neither a new allegation against either company, nor any number of companies, but how Sanders has chosen to take it on is very Amazon-centric in nature. It’s hard to argue that companies should be doing more to pay their employees a living wage in which there is no need to depend on federal assistance to get by, however, Sanders is doing it wrong.
In the BEZOS Bill, the language of it becomes so sprawling and far-reaching by the end of the bill, that it can be interpreted to include a person in subsidized housing counting against a company, as well as certain types of medical assistance, or other types of direct government assistance as seen on page five of the BEZOS bill. There is also a problem, as reported by Gizmodo, that the bill does nothing to address state and local government incentives provided to many companies to locate within their borders. This is a glaring, and major, oversight. As is, some argue companies are not receiving offsetting credit for the time and money to train employees to assume more skilled and higher paying positions.
Another problem is that Sanders is arguing based more on emotion and anecdotal information provided by former employees leaving comments on his website than actual facts. While the stories of former employees discussing the hardships endured working at Amazon are moving, they haven’t actually been vetted. Most are likely honest, as are the stories at ILSR that Sanders often references, but it is about due diligence if it is something that will be read on the Senate floor as evidence. Sanders claims, per Gizmodo, his bill will save $150 billion annually, but submits no evidence to back that up. That number may be in the ballpark, but he doesn’t provide information on how he reached it specifically.
“If employers in this country simply paid workers a living wage, taxpayers would save about $150 billion a year in federal assistance programs, and millions of workers would live in dignity and security.”
Sanders issued a press release along with his bill, in which he took specific aim at Jeff Bezos, a person Sanders seems to think embodies all that is wrong with corporate America, as reported at TechCrunch.
“Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on Earth, and since the beginning of this year, his wealth has increased by about $260 million every day. Meanwhile, thousands of Amazon workers rely on food stamps because their wages are so low.”
Sanders is broadly on the right track with this, in that people should be paid a wage that allows them to live with dignity and without the need of government assistance. Theoretically, on paper, that is a wonderful goal. Practically, too many questions are left unanswered by this sparse legislation that means well but misses the mark. As it has been presented, this bill has no chance of passing because it fails to adequately address too many important issues with the specificity they require.
What it does accomplish is that it continues a conversation that has been had many times over for years. His co-sponsor, Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), introduced similar legislation last year that was far more comprehensive and thought out, and it also failed to gain any attention. It makes it look as if he is really trying to do something to help low-wage earners and fight corporate greed, even if in a low-effort way.
Mostly, the BEZOS Bill puts Sanders’ name back in the news as he is gearing up his 2020 exploratory committee. If he was serious about the issue, he would have dusted off Khanna’s bill and submitted that instead of this sham piece of legislation which is only good for headlines. If he really meant to do more than grandstand for the press, he would submit a bill that had a prayer of being taken seriously.