Sanders’ Plan To Tax Millionaires Gains Support

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders’ plan to impose a surtax on people making more than a million dollars a year is gaining support in the U.S. Senate Democratic caucus.

But, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the proposal could become a bargaining chip as Senate and House leaders negotiate the details of a deficit reduction package.

(Kinzel) Sanders is a member of the Senate Budget committee, and the chairman of that panel, North Dakota senator Kent Conrad, has included a 3 percent surtax on millionaires in a draft budget plan.

Sanders says any deficit reduction proposal should represent a "shared sacrifice."  That means a balance of program cuts and taxes on the rich:

(Sanders) "We cannot move toward a deficit reduction on the backs of the middle class – which is already in significant trouble – or low income people who are already hurting big time. You’ve got to have the wealthiest people in this country contributing to deficit reduction and large profitable corporations as well. That’s my mantra"

(Kinzel) Sanders is hoping to persuade a group of moderate Democrats to support his plan by highlighting the results of recent public opinion polls:

(Sanders) "The overwhelming majority of the American people when asked the best to move towards a deficit reduction believe in shared sacrifice and they think that a surtax on millionaires is one effective way to go. So I think it is not only the right thing to do the fair thing to do in terms of good public policy frankly it is good politics as well."

(Kinzel) There’s also speculation that Senate Democratic leaders will include the surtax in their initial budget plan and then trade it away for other concessions from the Republicans. Sanders says he’ll be very disappointed if this happens because it will mark the second time that the Democrats have failed to hold their ground on tax policy:

(Sanders) "I gave an 8 and half hour speech because I was not impressed how strong the Democrats were in terms of negotiating a tax agreement which ended up continuing Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country."

(Kinzel) Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says there’s no question that the tax on millionaires has support in Washington:

(Davis) "I would say at this point a majority of the Democrats in the Senate plus many officials in the Administration would like revenue increases to be part of a grand budget reduction compromise shall we say."

(Kinzel) But Davis wonders if it will survive negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and President Obama:

(Davis) "Whether the ideas that Sanders is talking about would be part of any final agreement that those three would reach is still up in the air."

(Kinzel) It could be a few weeks before a final decision is made about the future of Sanders’ tax on millionaires.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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