Moderate Dems (Cautiously) Critique Warren Wealth Tax

Yuval Rosenberg

Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate saw moderate Democrats battle with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over their proposals for a wealth tax. Both Warren and Sanders have issued plans to heavily tax the rich in order to address inequality and pay for new social programs — and some of their Democratic rivals said they were open to the idea but thought other plans would work better.

“Two years ago, nobody was talking about wealth taxes. And now it’s the core new idea that everybody at least has to respond to, if not adopt, on the Democratic side,” Michael Linden, a tax expert at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute told The Washington Post.

Here’s what other candidates said about the idea.

Buttigieg: “I'm all for a wealth tax. I'm all for just about everything that was just mentioned in these answers. Let me tell, though, how this looks from the industrial Midwest where I live. Washington politicians, congressmen and senators, saying all the right things, offering the most elegant policy prescriptions, and nothing changes.”

Tom Steyer (a billionaire himself): “I was one of the first people on this stage to propose a wealth tax. I would undo every Republican tax cut for rich people and major corporations. But there's something else going on here that is absolutely shameful, and that's the way the money gets split up in terms of earnings. As a result of taking away the rights of working people and organized labor, people haven't had a raise — 90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.”

Klobuchar: “It could work. I am open to it. But I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth, because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We just have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea. … I would repeal significant portions of that [Trump] tax bill that help the rich, including what he did with the corporate tax rate, including what he did on international taxation.”

Andrew Yang: “Senator Warren is 100 percent right that we're in the midst of the most extreme winner-take-all economy in history. And a wealth tax makes a lot of sense in principle. The problem is that it's been tried in Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, and all those countries ended up repealing it, because it had massive implementation problems and did not generate the revenue that they'd projected. … Instead, we should look at what Germany, France, Denmark, and Sweden still have, which is a value-added tax.”

Beto O’Rourke: “I think [a wealth tax is] part of the solution. But I think we need to be focused on lifting people up. And sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive and pitting some part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions.”

Julian Castro: “I believe that wealth and equality tax, as I've proposed, is part of the answer, but also I've proposed an inheritance tax, raising the top marginal tax rate and investing in things like universal childcare and affordable housing.”

Warren responded to her critics on the stage by saying she’s “shocked” that anyone thinks she’s punitive, adding that she’s just asking those who make it to the top 0.1% to “pitch in two cents so every other kid in America has a chance to make it.” And she argued that raising income tax rates wouldn’t work as well as taxing wealth: “The really, really billionaires are making their money off their accumulated wealth, and it just keeps growing.”

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