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Stewart Acuff of Jefferson County, West Virginia and Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign hold a news conference in Washington, D.C. on December 14, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

'Can't Afford' Build Back Better? US Billionaires Saw $1 Trillion Wealth Boom in 2021 Alone

A new analysis shows that Sen. Ron Wyden's proposed tax on billionaires "would be more than enough to cover the expansion of the child tax credit in the Build Back Better Act."

Jake Johnson

A new analysis out Tuesday shows that the nearly 750 billionaires in the United States saw their combined wealth soar by $1 trillion in 2021, a 25% jump that—if taxed—would be enough to fully fund major priorities in Democrats' stalled Build Back Better package.

According to fresh number-crunching by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk led the billionaire pandemic profiteers with $118.2 billion in wealth gains last year, a 77% increase from 2020. Musk's "single-year wealth gain alone," ATF found, "would more than pay for Build Back Better's $109 billion plan to offer six years of free preschool for six million children."

"Just make billionaires pay their fair share in taxes."

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, meanwhile, saw their net worths grow by $1.4 billion and $18.3 billion, respectively.

U.S. billionaires now collectively own $5.1 trillion in wealth, ATF's analysis finds. By contrast, according to the latest Federal Reserve data, the bottom 50% of the U.S. population combined owns $3.4 trillion in wealth.

"While 2021 was a year of frustrated hopes and tighter budgets for most Americans, it was another banner year for the nation’s billionaires," ATF executive director Frank Clemente said in a statement.

Crucially, under current law, the billionaires' massive windfalls in 2021 will go untaxed because they consist of unrealized capital gains—a massive untapped revenue source.

ATF noted Tuesday that enactment of Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) Billionaires Income Tax proposal—which would subject the unrealized capital gains of the ultra-wealthy to taxation—could bring in enough revenue to fully fund a one-year extension of the boosted child tax credit, a program that lapsed last month due to Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) opposition.

Manchin is reportedly demanding that the proposed one-year extension of the CTC boost—which has lifted millions of children out of poverty—be removed entirely from the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act or more strictly means tested to limit eligibility.

But Clemente argued Tuesday that Congress "shouldn't be looking to cut Build Back Better investments that will help working families afford healthcare, child care, housing, and much more."

"It instead should start taxing the spiraling wealth gains of America's handful of bloated billionaires to pay for those investments," he added.

The Washington Post reported last month that Manchin recently told the White House he would "support some version of a tax targeting billionaire wealth as part of President Biden's Build Back Better economic agenda."

But the West Virginia Democrat has not publicly offered any specific details on the kind of tax he would be willing to endorse as he continues to block progress on the Build Back Better Act, which he falsely claims would fuel rising inflation.

"Don't tell us we 'can't afford' to pass Build Back Better and lower costs for the working families struggling most through the pandemic," ATF tweeted Tuesday. "Just make billionaires pay their fair share in taxes."


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