Before she entered politics, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was a corporate lawyer and saw the business world from the inside.
Now, she is one of corporate America’s biggest critics on the 2020 campaign trail. She reflected on the change during a recent interview with Rick Newman for Yahoo Finance’s Meet the Candidate series. “One of the reasons why I left the law and decided to run for Congress was because I wasn't fulfilled through the work I was doing,” she says.
Gillibrand, who represents Wall Street as the junior senator for New York, wants to combat gaping income inequality while also allowing business to grow. Asked if the business community should be worried about Democrats putting a target on their backs, Gillibrand shot back that they “should be excited for some Democrats.” Namely her.
To steal a phrase from one of her rivals, she has a plan for that.
Changing the ‘structure of work’
Gillibrand says she wants to “make this economy grow for everyone” – and “structural changes” are the way to do it.
Here are some components of her plan:
Make it easier for unions to organize. Gillibrand has co-sponsored legislation to make it easier for public sector workers to organize and would do the same for publicly traded companies.
Raise the federal minimum wage to $15. Nearly the entire Democratic field supports this idea with the House expected to vote on the minimum wage this week.
Gillibrand’s signature idea in this arena is a radical expansion of national paid family leave.
“We're the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have it,” she said. “It's a drag on our economy.”
Gillibrand would create a new government fund to guarantee new parents 12 weeks of paid family leave. Currently, some jobs allow new parents to take leave while other positions, often lower paid, do not.
Encouraging companies to have a ‘social mission’
The other aspect of Gillibrand’s plan is to push companies to have what she describes as a social mission: using their business to address issues like climate change or income equality.
For these types of companies, Gillibrand imagines “having the corporate tax rate somewhere between the for-profit rate and the not-for-profit rate.” (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in December 2017, reduced the U.S. federal corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%. Certain types of non-profit organizations are tax-exempt.)
She would reverse President Donald Trump’s corporate tax cuts with “maybe a lower rate for this mission-driven company, for people who have a socially good mission-driven imperative.”
Gillibrand has struggled to gain traction for her plans amid the more headline-grabbing proposals of rivals like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren but she remains optimistic she can gain support (or at least acceptance) from both business leaders and from workers.
“I would try to do it differently” she says.
Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C.