Democrats Unveil Billionaires’ Tax as Biden Plan Takes Shape

WASHINGTON (AP) -
A man walks past the the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Pushing past skeptics, Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new billionaires’ tax proposal, an entirely new entry in the tax code designed to help pay for President Joe Biden’s sweeping domestic policy package and edge his party closer to an overall agreement.

The proposed tax would hit the gains of those with more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of more than $100 million a year, and it could begin to shore up the big social services and climate change plan Biden is racing to finish before departing this week for global summits.

The new billionaires’ proposal, coupled with a new 15% corporate minimum tax, would provide alternative revenue sources that Biden needs to win over one key Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who had rejected the party’s earlier idea of reversing the Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to raise revenue.

Biden met late Tuesday evening with Sinema and another Democratic holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, at the White House.

“No senator wants to stand up and say, ‘Gee, I think it’s just fine for billionaires to pay little or no taxes for years on end,'” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, helming the new effort.

Biden and his party are zeroing in on at least $1.75 trillion in health care, child care and climate change programs, scaling back what had been a $3.5 trillion plan, as they try to wrap up negotiations this week.

Taken together, the new tax on billionaires and the 15% corporate minimum tax are designed to fulfill Biden’s desire for the wealthy and big business to pay their “fair share.” They also fit his promise that no new taxes hit those earning less than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples. Biden insists all the new spending will be fully paid for and not piled onto the national debt.

While the new tax proposals have appeared agreeable to Manchin and could win over Sinema, whose support is needed in the 50-50 split Senate where Biden has no votes to spare, the idea of the billionaires’ tax has run into criticism from other Democrats as cumbersome or worse.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he told Wyden the billionaires’ tax may be more difficult to implement than the route his panel took in simply raising rates on corporations and the wealthy.

Under Wyden’s emerging plan, the billionaires’ tax would hit the wealthiest of Americans, fewer than 800 people, starting in the 2022 tax year.

It would require those with assets of more than $1 billion, or three consecutive years of income of $100 million, to pay taxes on the gains of stocks and other tradeable assets, rather than waiting until holdings are sold.

A similar billionaires’ tax would be applied to non-tradeable assets, including real estate, but it would be deferred with the tax not assessed until the asset was sold, though interest would have to be paid.

Overall, the billionaires’ tax rate would align with the capital gains rate, now 23.8%. Democrats have said it could raise $200 billion in revenue that could help fund Biden’s package over 10 years.

Manchin’s resistance may scuttle one other tax idea — a plan to give the IRS more resources to go after tax scofflaws. He said he told Biden during their weekend meeting at the president’s home in Delaware that that plan was “messed up” and would allow the government to monitor bank accounts.

All told, Biden’s package remains a substantial undertaking — and could still top $2 trillion in perhaps the largest effort of its kind from Congress in decades. But it’s far slimmer than the president and his party first envisioned.