Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a hearing

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, speaks at a hearing on March 29, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Sanders Counters GOP Giveaways With Tax Hike on Estates of Ultra-Wealthy

"Over and over again, Republicans in Washington have professed their deep concern about the national debt and yet virtually all of them have signed onto legislation that would provide a $1.8 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires."

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would hike taxes on estates worth more than $3.5 million as congressional Republicans work to repeal the estate levy entirely—a move that would hand nearly $2 trillion to the wealthiest people in the United States.

The For the 99.5 Percent Act, which Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), would impose a 45% tax on estates worth between $3.5 million and $10 million, a 50% tax on estates worth between $10 million and $50 million, a 55% tax on estates worth between $50 million and $1 billion, and a 65% tax on estates valued at over $1 billion.

"This is not a radical idea," Sanders' office said in a press release. "In fact, from 1941-1976, the top estate tax rate was 77% on estates worth more than $50 million."

The new legislation would not impose any new taxes on 99.5% of Americans.

"Over and over again, Republicans in Washington have professed their deep concern about the national debt and yet virtually all of them have signed onto legislation that would provide a $1.8 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires by repealing the estate tax," Sanders said in a statement Tuesday, referring to the GOP's Death Tax Repeal Act of 2023, a bill led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Thune's legislation currently has 40 Republican cosponsors, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife received an inheritance worth between $5 million and $25 million following her mother's death in 2007.

Dozens of House Republicans have also backed legislation that would repeal all federal income taxes and replace them with a regressive national sales tax.

"At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need to make sure that people who inherit over $3.5 million pay their fair share of taxes," said Sanders. "We do not need to provide a huge handout to multi-millionaires and billionaires. It is unacceptable that working families across the country today are struggling to file their taxes on time and put food on the table, while the wealthiest among us profit off of enormous tax loopholes and giant tax breaks."

According to a summary released by Sanders' office, the new legislation would also target loopholes and inadequate rules that have allowed billionaire families like the Waltons to pass down wealth tax-free.

The bill was introduced with the backing of more than 420 national, state, and local groups, including the AFL-CIO and Public Citizen.

"For years, billionaires and multi-millionaires have gotten away with paying little to nothing in taxes," Warren said Tuesday. "This legislation will help us fix our broken tax system by closing loopholes that the ultra-wealthy use to dodge paying their fair share. Congress should pass this bill so we can invest in working families and build a brighter future for all of our children."

Citing an estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Sanders' office noted that a previous version of the For the 99.5 Percent Act would have raised $430 billion in federal revenue over its first decade.

The new bill, which faces long odds in both chambers of Congress, was unveiled on Tax Day, an occasion that—as one group put it in a statement earlier Tuesday—serves as "an annual reminder that the ultra-rich exist in an entirely separate world when it comes to taxes."

The For the 99.5 Percent Act is one of several pieces of legislation mentioned by the Patriotic Millionaires in its newly released tax reform agenda, which calls for wealth taxes, a 90% top tax rate on centimillionaires, and other changes to "fundamentally reimagine our tax code."

"For our future, our grandchildren's future, and our country's future," the group said Tuesday, "we must tax the rich."

Survey data released Tuesday by the progressive advocacy group Groundwork Action found that nearly 75% of U.S. voters, regardless of party affiliation, want Congress to prioritize cracking down on wealthy tax cheats and closing loopholes that benefit the rich.

The polling data also showed that 70% of U.S. voters want Congress to "make sure millionaires and billionaires pay more in taxes."

"Voters across the political spectrum are tired of hearing about billionaires and massive corporations paying less in taxes than nurses, teachers, or firefighters, so it's no surprise they're rejecting the Republican agenda of protecting tax breaks for the wealthy at all costs," said Lindsay Owens, executive director of Groundwork Collabortive Action.

"If Republicans want to talk about deficit reduction," Owens added, "Democrats have an easy response: Let's make the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share before asking workers and families to pay a penny more."

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