By Mike Murphy
A new bill co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders would impose a one-time windfall tax on the wealth that billionaires have accumulated during the coronavirus pandemic, using the proceeds to pay for free out-of-pocket health-care costs for all Americans for a year.
The “Make Billionaires Pay Act,” introduced Thursday by Sanders and Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, would slap a 60% tax on the roughly $731.8 billion that the 467 richest people in America have accumulated since March 18 — a period in which more than 50 million Americans have applied for jobless aid, 5.4 million lost their health insurance and the nation’s economy has been thrown into shambles.
Proceeds from the one-time tax would allow Medicare to cover all out-of-pocket health-care costs for every American, including prescription drugs, for one year, the senators said.
In a statement, Sanders, the Vermont independent, said the bill would “tax the obscene wealth gains billionaires have made during this extraordinary crisis.”
“At a time of enormous economic pain and suffering, we have a fundamental choice to make,” Sanders said. “We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while everyone else gets poorer and poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans.”
According to the statement, after the tax, the richest 0.001% of Americans would still be left with more than $310 billion in collective wealth gains this year.
Some big names were singled out :
— Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.45% CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest individual on the planet and whose wealth has risen 63% during the pandemic to more than $190 billion, would pay a one-time tax of $42.8 billion.
— Tesla Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +0.20% CEO Elon Musk, whose wealth has nearly tripled as Tesla stock has skyrocketed in recent months, would pay $27.5 billion.
— Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +0.60% CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose wealth has risen by nearly $40 billion during the pandemic, would pay $22.8 billion.
— The Walton family, heirs to the Walmart Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT +1.02% fortune whose wealth has grown by $21 billion, would pay $12.9 billion.
“Incredibly,” the senators said in a statement, “these billionaires currently pay a lower effective tax rate than teachers or truck drivers.”
No one with a net worth of less than $1 billion would pay the tax, they said.
“Requiring billionaires to pay their fair share will help support workers and families dealing with job losses, food insecurity, housing instability and health care,” Gillibrand said. “Not only is this a common-sense proposal, but it’s a moral one and Congress should be doing all we can to assist Americans struggling right now.”
Taxing the ultra-rich has become a popular cry for Democrats following the Trump tax cuts of 2017. Last year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass., proposed a tax on “ultra millionaires” as part of her presidential campaign.
It should be noted that, as MarketWatch reported earlier this year , starting the clock at March 18 lacks some context, as investors started worrying about the pandemic in February, leading to the stock market’s temporary but steep tumble.
For the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.57% is down 4%, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.30% is up nearly 4% and the Nasdaq Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.09% has gained 24%.