Sen. Bernie Sanders said he will introduce legislation that taxes the “obscene wealth gains” of billionaires during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday evening that he planned to target the profits billionaires have made since the virus-induced crisis began in mid-March.
The Vermont independent proposed imposing a 60% levy on the windfall gains that 467 billionaires earned between March 18 and Aug. 3, which he said could raise more than $420 billion. That money, he said, could be used to allow Medicare to pay all out-of-pocket health-care expenses for everyone in the U.S. in the next year.
U.S. billionaires’ wealth grew by $584 billion between March 18, when the majority of the nation shut down to slow the spread of the virus, and July 16, findings from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program for Inequality show. The report is based on Forbes data for America’s more than 600 billionaires.
On March 18, the stock market had already dropped about 29 percent from its Feb. 19 peak.
The five wealthiest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison — saw their combined fortune surge by a combined $150.6 billion.
In that same time period, the crisis brought the U.S. economy to a grinding halt, pushing more than 53 million Americans onto the unemployment roll in the span of about five months.
“During the last four months, while the very, very rich have become much richer, American households have seen their wealth go down by $6.5 trillion,” Sanders wrote. “In all likelihood, in the midst of everything else, we are currently witnessing what is likely the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the very rich in the modern history of this country.”
A Sanders tax on billionaires’ wealth would need to pass Congress before it could take effect — an essentially impossible feat with Republicans controlling the Senate.
Democrats have also been reluctant in embracing a wealth tax. However, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has pledged to roll back President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts if he’s elected and proposed, in conjunction with Sanders, $4 trillion in new taxes, which targets income and payroll taxes for high-income individuals.
Last year, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders was one of the biggest proponents of a wealth tax, pitching a plan that would tax fortunes above $32 million at 1% and those above $10 billion at 8%.