MIAMI — American voters may be checking their wallets by the end of the Democrats’ first presidential debate Wednesday.
With Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax, Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ plans to increase taxes on investment income and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s vow to repeal the 2017 tax cut package, Democratic hopefuls want to rake in more taxpayer dollars to fund an ambitious menu of new benefits they are promising.
Democrats are convinced that the Reagan-era epithet “tax-and-spend liberals” is no longer a candidate killer.
“Democrats used to be scared of this kind of stuff, but not anymore,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic Party strategist.
Mr. Manley said Democrats have grown tired of watching Republicans blow a hole in the federal deficit with tax cuts and then blaming the nation’s fiscal woes on spending on entitlements and domestic programs, which he said help the middle class.
“There are obviously some centrist Democrats that are uncomfortable with this approach, but more and more if you look at the polls a lot of Democrats would support it,” he said.
With more tax revenue, the candidates promise to finance a liberal wish list that includes tuition-free college, canceled student debt, universal pre-kindergarten and “Medicare-for-All” government-run health care.
In the case of businessman Andrew Yang, he is pushing a 10% value-added tax to finance a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every American adult.
At a town-hall-style event Tuesday in Miami, Ms. Warren touted her “ultra-millionaire tax,” which would take 2 cents of every dollar above $50 million from the fortunes of America’s wealthiest families.
“When you get that rich, it shouldn’t be just your real estate [that is taxed]. It should be the stock portfolio, the diamonds, the Rembrandt and the yacht,” Ms. Warren said to cheers from the roughly 1,300 people in attendance.
She said it was a question of what Americans value — a choice between protecting the wealth of the top 1% or making them pay their fair share to spread opportunity to the poor and middle class.
Mr. Biden is pledging to scrap the Trump tax cuts on his first day in office to help pay for two years of free community college, and he suggests some of that money could be pumped into a universal pre-kindergarten program.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris has proposed repealing the entire tax law to deliver a $3 trillion refundable tax cut for the middle class.
The California Democrat also is running on a $315 billion investment in raising teacher pay over 10 years. She says will be funded by “strengthening the estate tax and cracking down on loopholes that let the very wealthiest, with estates worth multiple millions or billions of dollars, avoid paying their fair share.”
That sort of message resonates, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
“Voters tend to support taxes that doesn’t tax them, and support taxes upon those people whose financial resources are in the 1% or so,” Mr. Brown said. “When you start talking about raising taxes on people who are uber-wealthy, you are likely to get more support than if you start talking about raising taxes on Jill and Joe Average.”
Indeed, Warren supporters at the town hall event were sold on her tax-the-rich plan.
“I don’t think anybody needs the amount of money ultra-millionaires have, and the money should be used for the public good,” said Adele Stock, a 22-year-old worker for the nonprofit conservationist organization Everglades Foundation.
The ambitious proposals, however, are likely dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Barring a massive blue wave in the 2020 elections, Democrats will be shy of the filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold in the Senate or could still be relegated to the minority.
Republican tax hawks, meanwhile, say Democrats are trying to be cute, particularly when it comes to scrapping the Trump tax cuts and glossing over their plans for financing the goals outlined in the Green New Deal.
“They dance around the taxes,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Mr. Norquist said Democrats refuse to acknowledge that the Republican tax reform doubled the standard deduction for individuals and families, so abolishing that law would result in higher income taxes on the same middle-class families that Democrats vow to protect.
Still, the calls for taxing the wealthy and investing more in government programs are growing in the Democratic ranks.
On Wednesday, a liberal group is set to launch a “Tax the Rich” bus tour in Miami, driving home the point.
“Taxing the rich continues to gain momentum among activists and politicians, and it’s really no surprise why — 75% of Americans, across the political spectrum, want the wealthy to pay their fair share,” said Dana Bye, the campaign director of Tax March, which is organizing the tour. “While everyday American families are struggling to get by, the rich continue to rig the system in their favor.”
Mr. Sanders upped the ante on that front this week by promising to increase taxes on Wall Street trades in stocks and bonds to raise $1.6 trillion to wipe away all student debt — past and present, public and private, undergraduate and advanced degrees.
“The American people bailed out Wall Street. Now it is time for Wall Street to come to the aid of the middle class of this country,” Mr. Sanders said at a press conference outside the Capitol.
Ms. Warren also has an ambitious student loan plan that calls for canceling $50,000 in student loan debt for individuals making less than $100,000 and to reduce some of the debt for those making $100,000 to $250,000 per year.
The centerpiece of Ms. Warren’s vision is a 2% “ultra-millionaire tax” on the 75,000 families with more than $50 million in net assets, which she estimates would rake in more than $2.75 trillion over a decade.
That’s enough to pay for her plans to erase most college debt, to allow tuition-free public college and a universal child care program, and to make down payments on the Green New Deal to fight climate change and “Medicare-for-All,” according to Ms. Warren’s estimates.
Add to that the $20 billion over 10 years for her election security initiative released Tuesday.
To keep the cash flowing to the Treasury, Ms. Warren also proposed increasing corporate taxes for another $1 trillion over 10 years.
Some economists voiced concerns that the revenue estimates are overly optimistic because wealthy families often find ways to avoid taxes.
Regardless, Ms. Warren is confident she can push tax hikes through Congress.
“Her ultra-millionaire tax can pass through reconciliation and she has already said that if Republicans follow the same playbook they did with President Obama, she will support getting rid of the filibuster,” the Warren campaign said in an email.
A Quinnipiac University survey released in April showed that 82% of Democrats backed Ms. Warren’s wealth tax and almost 80% backed her student loan forgiveness plan.
Nearly 60% embraced a 70% income tax rate on the richest of the rich, and 70% of Democrats supported making all public college free if it is paid for by a new tax on the rich.
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