Biden, Sanders tax plans would raise less revenue than claimed: studies

Greg Nash

Tax proposals from two leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would raise less revenue than the campaigns say they would, according to analyses released Thursday by the nonpartisan Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM).

The analyses were released less than two weeks before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

PWBM released three analyses Thursday. One looked at Sanders’s wealth tax proposal, and a second looked at Sanders’s proposal to expand the estate tax. The third examined nine tax changes proposed by Biden.

Sanders’s wealth tax proposal would create a progressive tax that starts with a 1-percent bracket for a married couples’ net worth between $32 million and $50 million and top out with an 8-percent bracket for couples’ net worth above $10 billion.

PWBM estimated that Sanders’s wealth tax would raise about $3.3 trillion in federal revenue over 10 years without accounting for economic effects, and would raise $2.8 trillion after including macroeconomic effects. Those estimates are less than the $4.35 trillion that the Sanders’s campaign has said his wealth tax plan would raise.

The PWBM researchers estimated that Sanders’s wealth-tax plan would result in gross domestic product (GDP) falling by 1.1 percent in 2050. That estimate follows the standard used by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of applying the revenue raised by the tax toward deficit reduction. However, Sanders has said he’d use the revenue from his plan to help fund “Medicare for All” and to pay for his child care and housing plans. 

“The wealth tax discourages wealthier households from accumulating as many assets,” PWBM researchers said in its study of Sanders’s proposal. “This disincentive to save outweighs the effects of deficit reduction.”

The report on Sanders’s wealth tax proposal comes after PWBM released an analysis of the wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another 2020 Democrat, last month. Warren’s wealth tax applies to fewer people and includes fewer brackets than Sanders’s proposal.

Rich Prisinzano, director of policy analysis for PWBM, said that compared to Warren’s proposal, Sanders’s proposal would raise more revenue and have about the same amount of drag on the economy.

Sanders’s estate tax proposal would reduce the amount of money exempt from the estate tax and create four new brackets for the tax, with the highest being a 77-percent bracket for estate values exceeding $1 billion. Sanders’s Senate office did not release a 10-year revenue estimate when Sanders introduced his bill last year.

PWBM estimated that Sanders’s estate-tax proposal would raise $267 billion over 10 years, without accounting for economic effects. The group estimated that the proposal would increase the percentage of estates subject to the estate tax, but that in 2030 only about 0.5 percent of decedents would be subject to Sanders’s tax, compared to about 0.2 percent of decedents in 2030 under current law. 

PWBM’s analysis of Biden’s tax plan examined a host of tax proposals that the former vice president has offered. These include raising the top individual income tax rate from 37 percent to its pre-GOP tax law level of 39.6 percent, raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, raising the capital gains rate for people with more than $1 million in income, limiting itemized deductions, increasing the tax rate on corporations’ foreign profits and creating a 15-percent minimum tax for corporations that report more than $100 million in income on their financial statements.

PWBM estimated that Biden’s tax proposals would raise $2.6 trillion over 10 years on a conventional basis and $2.3 trillion after macroeconomic effects were accounted for. That’s less than the $3.2 trillion that the Biden campaign claimed would be raised by the proposals PWBM examined.

The PWBM researchers said that their revenue estimate accounts for interactions between the various tax proposals, while the Biden campaign’s estimate does not appear to do so.

The researchers estimated that more than half of the share of the tax change would fall on the people in the top 0.1 percent of the income distribution in 2021. PWBM estimated that Biden’s tax plan would reduce the after-tax incomes of people in the top 0.1 percent by about 14 percent, while taxpayers in the bottom 95 percent of the income distribution would see their after-tax incomes decrease by less than 1 percent.

PWBM estimated that Biden’s tax proposals would increase GDP by 0.1 percent in 2050 if the revenue was used for deficit reduction. 

“The macro effects are basically neutral,” Prisinzano said.

Biden plans to use the revenue from his proposals for various spending initiatives, including his health-care proposal.

“Joe Biden is running for president to build a stronger, more inclusive American middle class and an economy and a tax code that rewards work – not just wealth,” Biden campaign policy director Stef Feldman said in a statement. “Biden has proposed unprecedented investments that will create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, make us more competitive with the rest of the world, and grow our economy – including investments in infrastructure, a clean energy revolution, and education. He also has a plan to pay for all of these investments by ensuring that the highest earners and corporations pay their fair share.”

Progressives have taken issue with economic analyses of tax proposals that do not take into account the spending proposals that would be financed by taxes.

Prisinzano said that PWBM plans to release a subsequent analysis examining what happens if Biden and Sanders’s revenue raisers were used to finance productivity-boosting investments. 

Prisinzano also said that PWBM plans at a later point to put out a paper about all of Sanders’s tax proposals. Sanders has offered a number of other tax proposals in addition to his proposed wealth tax and expansion of the estate tax. These include a financial transaction tax and raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 35 percent, the rate in effect prior to President Trump’s 2017 tax-cut law.

The Sanders campaigns did not immediately provide The Hill with comment.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden

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