The letter calls on Congress not to pass any tax bill that “further exacerbates inequality” and adds to the debt. Instead of petitioning tax cuts for the wealthy, the letter tells Congress to raise taxes on rich people like them. It is being released publicly this week, as Republicans debate legislation that would add $1.5 trillion to the debt to pay for widespread tax cuts for businesses and individuals.
The letter was put together by Responsible Wealth, a group that advocates progressive causes. Signers include Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, fashion designer Eileen Fisher, billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, and philanthropist Steven Rockefeller, as well as many individuals and couples who aren't household names but are part of the top 5 percent ($1.5 million in assets or earning $250,000 or more a year).
“I think a tax cut is absurd,” said Bob Crandall, a former American Airlines chief executive who lives in Florida and added his name to the letter. Republicans are “saying we can’t afford to spend money, but we can afford to give rich people a huge tax break. This makes no sense,” Crandall said.
Cutting taxes on businesses and individuals is the centerpiece of “MAGA-nomics,” President Trump's plan to spur growth and jobs in the country. The House and Senate have unveiled tax plans this month that they hope to pass and get on the president's desk by Christmas.
While the House and Senate bills have substantial differences, both cut taxes, on average, for many millionaires and billionaires. The Senate bill even cuts the top tax rate for couples earning more than $1 million (and individuals earning over $500,000) from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent.
The White House and congressional Republicans argue that everything in the bill is geared toward pumping more investment into the U.S. economy. They say the money that corporations and the rich save on their taxes would likely be used to start new companies or build new factories.
“I don't believe that we've set out to create a tax cut for the wealthy. If someone's getting a tax cut, I'm not upset that they're getting a tax cut,” Gary Cohn, the head of Trump's National Economic Council, said in an interview with CNBC last week. “Everything in our tax system is meant to encourage investment.”
But signers of the Responsible Wealth letter disagree, arguing that corporations are already at record profit levels and that wealthy people don't need more money. They would rather see the government use the funds to invest in education, research and roads that benefit everyone and to ensure that safety net programs such as Medicaid aren't cut.
“I have a big income. If my income gets bigger, I’m not going to invest more. I'll just save more,” said Crandall, who is retired.
The letter specifically criticizes Congress for attempting to repeal the estate tax, which is only paid on assets worth more than $5.49 million ($11 million for couples) that are left to heirs. The House bill would eliminate the estate tax entirely. The Senate plan would double the threshold so people could inherit up to $11 million ($22 million for couples) tax free.
At the moment only 5,000 families a year end up paying the estate tax. Under the Senate plan, that would drop to just 1,800 families, according to a report by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress's official nonpartisan estimators.
“Repealing the estate tax alone would lose an estimated $269 billion over 10 years — more than we would spend on the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, and Environmental Protection Agency combined,” the letter said.
Responsible Wealth is a liberal organization that teamed up for Voices for Progress on this campaign. Most of the signers of the letter come from California, New York and Massachusetts, states that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the last election. Former labor secretary Robert Reich, a backer of Bernie Sanders, also signed the letter. They hope to remind Congress that not everyone is clamoring for lower taxes. Several signers have already visited Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans and Democrats, especially from their home states.
“This has to be one of the few times members of Congress have been visited by people saying, 'Don’t give me a tax cut,'" said Mike Lapham, who inherited sizable wealth from his family's paper mill in Upstate New York and now directs the Responsible Wealth project at United for a Fair Economy. "Wealthy people are saying it themselves: We don't need a tax cut.”
Republican representatives from California, New York and New Jersey are expected to be key swing votes that could make or break the GOP tax plan efforts. Many of these members are upset that the House and Senate bills eliminate a popular tax break known as the state and local tax deduction, which is used by many filers earning more than $100,000 a year, especially in high-tax states.