President Biden’s tax increases may prove among the most controversial elements of the administration’s coming “Build Back Better” agenda, setting up a major confrontation with business groups and congressional Republicans.
The president has said his tax increases will not affect people earning less than $400,000 per year. He and his advisers have called for funding the next major domestic priority with higher levies on wealthy Americans, citing the relative success enjoyed by the affluent during a pandemic that has pummeled the economic fortunes of the working class. Almost all of the president’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan was financed by adding to the federal debt.
“Folks at the top who’ve been able to benefit from this economy and haven’t been this hard-hit, there’s a lot of room there to think about what kinds of revenue we can raise,” White House economist Heather Boushey told Bloomberg News this month.
The White House’s legislative effort is expected to be broken up into two main components — one focused primarily on infrastructure and clean energy, and a second focused on domestic priorities including child care and prekindergarten that the administration has labeled part of the “caring economy.”
The tax increases in the plan are similarly divided between those two parts. The infrastructure section of the legislation is expected to be funded primarily by taxes on businesses, according to the officials.
The key measures under discussion include raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent; increasing the global minimum tax paid from about 13 percent to 21 percent; ending federal subsidies for fossil fuel companies; and forcing multinational corporations to pay the U.S. tax rate rather than the lower rates paid by their foreign subsidiaries, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters not yet public.
The part of the legislation focused on other domestic priorities, by contrast, is expected to be funded by taxes on rich people and investors. Those measures, according to officials, include increasing the highest income tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent; significantly increasing taxes on wealthy investors; and limiting deductions that rich taxpayers can claim annually, among other measures, the officials said.
There would be two parts to the higher taxes on investors. Biden’s plan would tax gains on capital income — such as stocks and dividends — as normal income for those earning more than $1 million. Currently, the maximum tax on capital gains is slightly more than 20 percent, far below the nearly 40 percent top rate Biden is seeking. The plan is also likely to include a Biden campaign pledge to increase taxes on assets passed down to heirs, the officials said.
Both sets of tax increases mirror what Biden proposed in 2020 as a presidential candidate. Administration officials also are considering paying for the package in part through a plan that would lower the cost of prescription drugs. That would allow the government to spend less on public health programs such as Medicare. Similar measures have been estimated to save the government $500 billion over 10 years, the officials said.
A White House spokesman declined to comment. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday called reports about the recovery package “premature” and said the proposal would not be introduced this week.
The tax plans being considered probably will spur opposition from congressional Republicans as well as members of the president’s party. Republicans have said the Democratic president’s tax plans will hurt businesses at a fragile moment for the U.S. economy.
“There’s no good case for anything like the kind of tax increases they’re advocating,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), who helped craft the 2017 GOP tax legislation. “The idea we should agree to some huge economy-crushing tax increase so the government can go on yet another spending binge is a nonstarter for me.”
Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), the top-ranking Republican on the tax-focused House Ways and Means Committee, also blasted the prospect of “partisan tax hikes” and slammed the emerging infrastructure proposal as one that would “fleece American workers, families and Main Street businesses.”
The plan also is set to exclude measures pushed by some liberals, particularly the annual tax on wealth pushed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), among others. Biden’s proposal is also expected to leave out a Democratic push to reverse the GOP tax law’s limit on state and local tax deductions, a priority of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the officials said. Many tax experts said that measure would primarily benefit high-income earners.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in an interview that he is working on “a number of proposals” on targeted tax changes, including one timed for shortly after a scheduled Thursday hearing on multinational companies that seek to shield their profits using tax havens and other complicated schemes abroad.
“I think that the next debate is just getting started. And what I can tell you is, if you look at recent history, Donald Trump’s standing was lowest when he was working so hard to take health care away from millions of people while he was showering billionaires and megacorporations with billions and billions of dollars of tax write-offs,” Wyden said.