Unless you’ve lived on another planet for the last five years, you know that Bernie Sanders isn’t a big fan of the uber-wealthy. He’s been railing against the detrimental effects of millionaires and billionaires on the nation’s economy for years.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Sanders took it even a step farther. In a tweet touting his newly unveiled plan to tax the ultra-wealthy, the Vermont senator wrote this: “There should be no billionaires. We are going to tax their extreme wealth and invest in working people.”
No billionaires! As in, Sanders is going to tax them out of existence?
That’s not, at least according to my reading of the plan, what Sanders is actually proposing. Here’s the basics of his ultra-wealth tax, according to his website:
“It would start with a 1 percent tax on net worth above $32 million for a married couple. That means a married couple with $32.5 million would pay a wealth tax of just $5,000.
“The tax rate would increase to 2 percent on net worth from $50 to $250 million, 3 percent from $250 to $500 million, 4 percent from $500 million to $1 billion, 5 percent from $1 to $2.5 billion, 6 percent from $2.5 to $5 billion, 7 percent from $5 to $10 billion, and 8 percent on wealth over $10 billion. These brackets are halved for singles.
“Under this plan, the wealth of billionaires would be cut in half over 15 years which would substantially break up the concentration of wealth and power of this small privileged class.”
So, Sanders’ plan would significantly reduce the number of billionaires. It would not get rid of billionaires entirely. Except that, at least according to the tweet, the elimination of all billionaires is the end goal of Sanders’ plan. Which is a political problem for Sanders.
“Wait, what??” tweeted Andy Lassner, an executive producer of “Ellen” and a prominent liberal voice on Twitter, in response to Sanders’ tweet. “So folks like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have committed their vast wealth to providing clean water around the world and obliterating Polio shouldn’t exist? Oprah shouldn’t exist?”
If that is the reaction from the liberal left, can you imagine what President Donald Trump and his allies will do with a line like, “There should be no billionaires?” Trump, even at the United Nations on Tuesday, made his oft-repeated pledge that “America will never be a socialist country.”
Polling suggests that most Americans view billionaires suspiciously – a Bloomberg poll showed just 31% said they admired billionaires – but there is very little support for seeking to eliminate billionaires entirely or a large number of people who view the existence of billionaires as a policy failure by this country.
Sanders’ lean-in to this sort of treatment of the wealthy provides a real contrast not just to the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden but also to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has proposed her own tax on the extremely wealthy. “I am a capitalist,” she told CNBC’s John Harwood in 2018. “Come on. I believe in markets.”
Make no mistake: There is a segment within the Democratic primary who will love the idea of taxing billionaires into oblivion. But almost all of those people are already for Sanders. For everyone else in the party, they will likely see this for what it will be in the context of a general election in which Sanders is the nominee: The reddest of red meat for Donald Trump.