It’s certainly not the “go to” way that Bernie Sanders describes paying for his Medicare-for-all bill. But it has definitely been a part of his rhetoric for more than 20 years: Sanders just introduced to popular fanfare a “wealth tax” to the United States.
Sanders wrote in his 1997 book “Outside in the House,” that it was “high time to establish a tax on wealth similar to those that exist in most European countries.” In his first race for the U.S. Senate, Sander’s opponent quoted the passage online, printed it in brochures and blasted it publicly as often as possible. “Sanders’ European-style wealth tax,” on “everything they own every year. Every tractor, cow, and acre,” the Sanders opponent continually stated. Sanders defended his position by saying that he never really formally proposed a “wealth tax,” he just floated the idea. But in the 2016 Democratic primary in 2016, the Sanders campaign flat out considered an official wealth tax. They eventually let the idea die because of the perception that it was too far out of the mainstream.
But now, a year after the election, the 76-year-old independent senator from Vermont is riding high on his popularity. Before Sanders even announced his bill, he had 16 senators backing his legislation. That means that roughly one-third of the chamber’s Democrats support a single-payer health plan.
A “wealth tax” will be much harder to embrace. Most experts agree that a federal tax on the net assets of the very wealthy will be extremely complicated and possibly unconstitutional.
In a white paper released last week, Sanders outlined a wealth tax policy for the first time. “This is something that he’s always given some consideration to,” said Warren Gunnels, a policy adviser who has worked for Sanders for 18 years. The policy was one of the items in a six-page fact sheet titled, “Options to Finance Medicare-For-All.” It would impose an annual 1% levy on net worth exceeding $21 million. For someone like Bill Gates, this could mean taxes totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Sanders claims that his proposal would raise $1.3 trillion in 10 years.
The baseline idea is to level the distribution of wealth in America. Those young and progressive voters who enthusiastically supported Sanders in his presidential bid listened with delight to him describe the state of inequality. He was quick to tell his base that the 160,000 families in the top 0.1% hold about the same share of wealth as the 144 million households in the bottom 90%. He went even further. The wealthiest 20 families own more than the bottom 50%; and just one family, the Waltons (Wal-Mart) owns more than the bottom 40%.
“If you know anything about Sen. Bernie Sanders, reducing the extreme amount of wealth inequality in America has been a very strong concern of his. One of the most obvious ways to reduce this extreme wealth inequality in our country is to impose a tax on wealth,” Gunnels said.
Out of the 16 Democratic senators who support Sander’s Medicare-for-all bill, only four said that they would consider the wealth tax option: Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Kamala Harris of California.
What do you think about Sanders “wealth tax” proposal?