Democratic presidential candidates are calling for increasing taxes on capital gains, a move they argue would make the tax code more fair and help to reduce income inequality.
Many of the candidates have suggested they might raise tax rates on investment gains and end breaks that allow people to minimize their capital gains tax bills.
People pay capital gains taxes when they sell investments. Currently, the top tax rate on long-term capital gains is 20 percent, plus a 3.8 net investment tax for high earners. By contrast, the top rate on individuals’ ordinary income, such as wages, is 37 percent, plus 3.8 percent in Medicare taxes. Analysts have estimated that most of the benefits of the lower capital gains rates go to high-income taxpayers.
Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, currently leading in many polls, has repeatedly said at campaign events that he thinks capital gains taxes are too low, though he has not specified what he thinks the ideal tax rate should be.
“We need to get rid of these capital gains cuts and loopholes for the super-wealthy,” Biden, one of the more centrist candidates in the 2020 Democratic field, said at a rally in Iowa in April.
Biden has focused many his comments on eliminating a tax preference often called “step-up in basis,” saying that doing so would raise revenue to cut college costs and reduce the deficit.
Under step-up in basis, people can transfer investments to their heirs without the investments being taxed at the time of their death. When their heirs sell the investments, they don’t have to pay capital gains taxes on the value that the investment appreciated before they received it.
Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), who is known for his progressive views, supports taxing capital gains and dividends the same as income from work, according to his campaign.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders proposed taxing the capital gains and dividends of high-income taxpayers at the same rates as ordinary income, and taxing capital gains at death and when a gift is made.
Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.) and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE (D-Md.) have both said that they want to tax investment gains and wage income the same and use the revenue raised from the change to help offset the cost of expanding the earned income tax credit — a refundable tax credit that benefits low- and middle-income workers.
“By pairing [an expansion of the credit] with the capital gains increase, I’m making it very clear to the world where my priorities are, which is we should use the tax code to benefit workers,” Delaney said in an interview with The Hill.
Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonEx-CBO director calls for more than trillion in coronavirus stimulus spending Overnight Defense: Trump’s move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd’s death ‘a national tragedy’ Democrats blast Trump’s use of military against protests MORE (D-Mass.) recently released a tax plan that included equalizing tax rates for capital gains and ordinary income and ending step-up in basis.
“People rightly view the tax system right now as unfair,” Moulton told The Hill.
“It’s not fair that Warren Buffett pays lower taxes than his secretary,” he added, referencing the billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ Hickenlooper ethics questions open him up to attack MORE (D) and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.), are also among the 2020 candidates who want to tax capital gains and ordinary income at the same rates. O’Rourke and Hickenlooper have also called for ending stepped-up basis, and Hickenlooper wants long-term capital gains to be indexed to inflation while taxed at ordinary income rates. That change would reduce the amount of gains subject to taxes compared to if the gains weren’t indexed.
A Democratic president who wants to increase capital gains taxes would have support from a key ally in Congress. Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenNursing homes under scrutiny after warnings of seized stimulus checks Hillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests MORE (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, is working on a proposal to tax wealthy people’s investment gains annually — instead of just when investments are sold — at the same rates as wage income.
“To ensure wealthy Americans pay their fair share of taxes, we need to close capital gains loopholes and equalize the tax treatment of wages and wealth,” Wyden said in a statement to The Hill.
Tax experts say that 2020 Democrats are taking a more full-throated approach to calling for higher capital gains taxes than they typically have in the past.
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Former President Obama proposed raising capital gains rates for high earners to 28 percent, still short of the top ordinary income tax rate. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE proposed increasing capital gains rates for investments held in the medium term but proposed keeping the top long-term rate the same. And Democrats in the past have also focused much of their talk about capital gains narrowly on ending capital gains tax breaks for the carried interest earned by investment-fund managers.
“This time around, people are willing to take on the much bigger issue,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy for the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Advocates of higher taxes on the rich see the growing consensus from Democratic candidates on capital gains as positive news.
“I’m excited by this development,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness Action Fund. “Democratic candidates are recognizing how unfair it is that the richest Americans can pay a tax rate that’s half of what they should be paying.”
The interest from some Democratic presidential candidates in higher capital gains taxes is one of several ideas candidates have proposed to increase taxes on the wealthy. For example, several candidates have proposed increasing the estate tax, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) has floated a wealth tax.
The exact amount of revenue that can be raised from increasing capital gains taxes depends on proposals’ details, tax experts said.
Supporters of taxing capital gains more said that increasing rates alone won’t raise the kind of revenue that Democrats are seeking, since people will hold onto their investments for longer if rates are higher. Experts said that candidates should also call for other changes in addition to higher rates, such as ending step-up in basis and requiring investment gains to be taxed annually.
Democrats’ approach is vastly different from the stance of Republicans, who generally think that capital gains taxes should be cut in order to increase incentives for investment and saving.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s campaign blasted Democrats for proposing tax increases, saying Democrats will need to impose tax hikes to pay for plans such as government-run health care and a Green New Deal.
“Americans are enjoying what may be the strongest economy in history, and raising taxes is the surest way to derail it,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
Ryan Ellis, president of the conservative Center for a Free Economy, said that if Democrats’ position on capital gains is discussed along with their position on Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, “it becomes part of the argument that they are too radical to be elected.”
Trump has said he’s considering taking executive action to reduce capital gains taxes by indexing capital gains to inflation.
Democrats in Congress fiercely oppose such a move, saying it would increase the deficit and largely benefit the wealthy. They also argue that the administration doesn’t have the authority to index capital gains on its own.
But conservatives back indexing capital gains and are optimistic that the administration will take action before the 2020 election. They argue that indexing capital gains will lead to a surge in sales of investments that will boost the economy and that indexing can benefit family farmers and people selling their homes.
“I think it’s going to be very helpful,” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.