Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren vie to set highest tax rate
Democrats eyeing bids for the White House also are competing to see who is willing to go the highest in raising taxes.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York liberal who is too young constitutionally to become president, nevertheless set a benchmark when she suggested in a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday that rates for the wealthy could top out at up to 70 percent.
Julian Castro, an Obama administration Cabinet official who has announced a testing-the-waters presidential committee, quickly jumped on the bandwagon by telling ABC News that it’s time the wealthy be tapped for their “fair share.”
“There was a time in this country where the top marginal tax rate was over 90 percent,” Mr. Castro said in praising Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s vision. “Even during Reagan’s era in the 1980s, it was around 50 percent.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, who also has formed a presidential exploratory committee, hasn’t committed to a high-water mark, but she too spoke approvingly of major rate hikes.
“Look, there was a time in a very prosperous America — an America that was growing a middle class, an America in which working families were doing better generation after generation after generation — where the top marginal rate was well above 50 percent,” Ms. Warren said on CNBC in July. “Ninety percent sounds pretty shockingly high. But what I’m trying to get at is this is not about negotiating over specific numbers.”
For a Democratic Party preparing to face off against President Trump, whose major legislative accomplishment was a $1.5 trillion tax cut, the contrast is campaign-ready.
“Repealing the trillion-dollar-plus Trump giveaway to the superrich and giant corporations is becoming the new floor for what Democrats will be pushing for on taxes,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Liberal activists are eager to see what the government might be able to do with the revenue they expect to be raised and predict further building of the social safety net.
“Ocasio-Cortez is reviving a tradition in the Democratic Party of being the party of the New Deal and Great Society,” Waleed Shahid, the communication director for Justice Democrats, told The Washington Times.
Mr. Castro embraced Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s idea, but other potential Democratic presidential candidates said only that taxes need to be increased.
“I’m eager to have a discussion about it,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California told The Washington Times.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, another lawmaker from the Golden State, also declined to take a specific stand, though he said revoking Mr. Trump’s tax moves should be part of any action.
“I think we saw what unfair meant [in the] last tax bill. And the voters did, too. That’s why they threw out the party that passed that,” he said.
Others ignored inquiries about taxes. Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey declined to talk about it, saying he is focusing on the partial government shutdown.
Under the New Deal, the top tax rate surged from about 25 percent to 94 percent during World War II. The rate remained in the 80 percent and 90 percent range until the Kennedy and Johnson tax cuts and dropped to 70 percent through the Carter administration.
President Reagan oversaw a cut to 50 percent and then 28 percent. President George H.W. Bush signed an increase to 31 percent. President Clinton took it to nearly 40 percent, President George W. Bush cut it to 35 percent, and President Obama returned the level to the Clinton era, with an add-on for Obamacare.
The tax overhaul Mr. Trump signed in 2017 cuts that top marginal rate to 37 percent. That kicks in for individuals making $500,000.
Mr. Green predicted that Democrats will be willing to roll back top rates at least to 50 percent.
Ryan Greenwood, director of Movement Politics for People’s Action, said his group fully endorses Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan to go as high as 70 percent.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said her top rate would kick in for those with annual earnings of $10 million or more.
Erica York, an analyst with the Tax Foundation, said the increases wouldn’t be likely to produce a windfall for the government.
She said people with that much in earnings are generally reporting more investment income than wages, and investments are generally taxed at different rates. She also predicted that a 70 percent top rate would push wealthy taxpayers to find other ways to shelter their incomes.
Ms. York said lawmakers instead could start with smaller changes, such as capping itemized deductions, to start increasing revenue.
“Without a totally new type of tax, it would be really difficult to get the revenue necessary,” she said.
Some Democrats have urged such a plan, dubbed the “Buffett Rule,” after billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett says he shouldn’t be paying a lower rate on his investment income than his secretary pays on her wages.
A Senate bill enshrining the Buffett Rule would impose a mandatory effective minimum tax rate of 30 percent on anyone with income over $2 million and a lower mandatory rate on those making $1 million.
Among Democrats eyeing a presidential run, Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Ms. Warren and Mr. Booker co-sponsored the legislation in the last Congress.
Not signing on was Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who was the runner-up in the 2016 Democratic presidential contest when he championed a 50 percent top marginal tax rate.
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