WASHINGTON (AP) - Bernie Sanders on Thursday released a plan to significantly raise taxes on the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans, the latest in a series of proposals from Democratic presidential contenders to combat income inequality by shifting tax burdens to the upper class.
Sanders' announcement of new legislation adding to the estate tax, which Republicans have long pushed to pare back, comes one week after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren rolled out a pitch to tax the net worth of an estimated 75,000 "ultra-millionaires," or less than the top 0.1 percent of U.S. households. The Vermont independent senator has yet to reveal whether he plans to compete with Warren in 2020's crowded Democratic presidential primary. But Sanders' new tax plan sends a clear signal that he expects to be part of an escalating public debate over taxing the wealthy - a debate he connected back to his first presidential bid in 2016.
During Sanders' challenge to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, he recalled on Capitol Hill on Thursday, "everyone told me I was too extreme, this is not what the American people want, this is not what the Democratic Party should do. Well, it turns out that poll after poll says that in midst of massive income and wealth inequality ... the American people do not think it's appropriate that three people in America own more wealth than the bottom half of the country."
"Now, we can argue and debate the best way forward" on creating a more equitable economy, Sanders said to reporters, "and I think that will happen."
His measure would create four new estate tax brackets, ranging from 45 percent to 77 percent, while exempting the first $3.5 million of any individual's estate, according to a summary released by his office. The highest new bracket in Sanders' plan would effectively reinstate the 77 percent tax rate on estates greater than $1 billion in value, which was in effect between 1941 and 1976. The bill also would close loopholes in the current estate and gift taxes while carving out protections for family farms to lower their estate tax bills.
Republicans attempted this week to repeal the estate tax, which they often criticized as a "death tax" that disproportionately affects farmers who pass down large swaths of land to their descendants.