Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced legislation that would tax the "obscene wealth gains" America's billionaires have accumulated during the Covid-19 crisis and use the resulting revenue to empower Medicare to cover all out-of-pocket medical expenses for everyone in the United States for a year.
"We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while everyone else gets poorer and poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sanders said "if we taxed 60% of the windfall gains these billionaires made from March 18th until August 3rd, we could raise over $420 billion."
"That's enough revenue to allow Medicare to pay all of the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for everyone in America over the next 12 months," said Sanders. "By taxing 60% of the wealth gains made by just 467 billionaires during this horrific pandemic, we could guarantee healthcare as a right for an entire year."
According to a fact-sheet released by Sanders' office, the Make Billionaires Pay Act would impose a 60% tax on all billionaire wealth gains between March 18, 2020 and January 1, 2021 and use the funds to cover the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses of all Americans for a full year. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
"While a record-breaking 5.4 million Americans recently lost their health insurance, 467 billionaires in our country increased their wealth by an estimated $731.8 billion during the pandemic," the fact-sheet reads. "Incredibly, as a result of the Trump tax giveaway to the rich, these billionaires currently pay a lower effective tax rate than teachers or truck drivers."
Under the Sanders proposal, Medicare would cover all out-of-pocket healthcare costs for the tens of millions of people in the U.S. without insurance for a year. For Americans with either public or private insurance, their providers would bill Medicare for all out-of-pocket expenses.
"Everyone has suffered during the pandemic—from lost lives, lost jobs, lost chances—everyone, that is, except America's billionaires," Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said in a statement. "Senator Sanders' bill recognizes that a good chunk of the obscene growth in wealth by the richest Americans during a national emergency should be used to help us all survive and recover."
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In his floor speech Wednesday, Sanders warned that the U.S. is "currently witnessing what is likely the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the very rich in the modern history of this country" as Congress fails to provide additional relief to workers and the unemployed while continuing to bail out large corporations.
"In the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of an economic meltdown for working families, in the midst of a great struggle regarding systemic racism and police brutality, in the midst of the existential threat of climate change, in the midst of a president undermining democracy and moving us toward an authoritarian government, in the midst of all of that, we are seeing a massive increase in income and wealth inequality and the movement in this country toward oligarchy," Sanders said.
The Vermont senator went on to list several examples of "morally obscene" billionaire profiteering during the pandemic:
- While Amazon is denying paid sick leave, hazard pay and personal protective equipment to 450,000 of its workers, Jeff Bezos has increased his wealth by over $70 billion.
- While U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the starvation wages at Walmart, our nation's largest private employer, the Walton family has made over $20 billion during the pandemic and now has a net worth of over $200 billion.
- While 40 million Americans face eviction, Elon Musk has nearly tripled his wealth over the past four months and now has a net worth of more than $70 billion.
- While millions of Americans are lining up at emergency food banks because they don't have enough money to put food on the table, Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook has increased his wealth by more than $37 billion during the pandemic and is now worth over $90 billion.
"At a time of enormous economic pain and suffering, we have a choice to make," Sanders said. "We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while everyone else gets poorer and poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans."
Watch the full speech: