June 29, 2007

Presidential Candidates Weigh in on Wealthy's Taxes

As discussed in a previous post, Warren Buffett made news earlier this week by arguing that the rich pay too little in federal taxes. Buffett's commentary was tax topic #1 at last night's Democratic Presidential debate, held at Howard University. Here's a transcript of how each candidate reacted to Buffett's comments:
Ruben Navarrette, Jr.: Thank you, Tavis. This week, billionaire Warren Buffett said that the very wealthy aren't taxed nearly enough. In fact, he noted that he's taxed at a lower rate than some of his employees who earn much less. Do you agree that the rich aren't paying their fair share of taxes and, if so, what would you do about it?

John Edwards: Well, in fact, I've heard Warren Buffett himself talk about the genetic lottery that we have in America where the family you're born into has an awful lot to do with what happens with your life. What we want to do, I think, is live in an America where, no matter who your family is or what the color of your skin or where you were born, everybody gets the samechance to do well and people who have done well ought to have more responsibility to pay back to the country and to the community and those around them. I think there are at least a couple things we need to do. First, we need to get rid of George Bush's tax cuts for rich people which have distorted the tax system in America. I would use that money to pay for universal health care to make sure everyone's covered. But the second problem that he's talking about is, we have a capital gains rate, fifteen percent, which is the rate that most people pay on their investment income like Warren Buffett that's significantly lower than the tax rate that his secretary pays. That's not right. There is a moral disconnect. We ought to honor work in this country and not just wealth.

Tavis Smiley: Thank you, sir.

Barack Obama: There's no doubt that the tax system has been skewed and, the Bush tax cuts, people didn't need them and they weren't even asking for them and that's why they need to be lapsed so we can pay for universal health care and other initiatives. But I think this goes to a broader question and that is, are we willing to make the investments in genuine equal opportunity in this country? People aren't looking for charity and one of the stressing things sometimes when we have a conversation about race in America is that we talk about welfare and we talk about poverty, but what people really want is fairness. They want people paying their fair share of taxes. They want that money allocated fairly. One of the distressing things about Katrina was the fact not only that the Bush administration did not respond, but the tragedy had happened before the hurricane struck. That is because we had not made systematic investments and the only way we're going to make it is by making sure that those of us who are fortunate enough to have the money actually make a contribution for all the programs that we've been talking about tonight.

Tavis Smiley: Congressman?

Dennis Kucinich: There's three questions involved here.What are we taxed, who is paying and how are our tax dollars spent? Right now, we know that those who are in the highest brackets are not paying a fair share. We understand that. And we also understand that a lot of these corporations are taking their business offshore so they can offshore their profits and escape paying tens of billions of dollars in taxation. We also know that our tax dollars right now are being spent overwhelmingly on war and military buildups. I want to see a new direction. I want to see the wealthy pay their fair share. I want to make sure that these corporations, if they have an American name, they have to pay taxes here and I want to see the end of war as an instrument of policy.

Tavis Smiley: Senator Gravel?

Mike Gravel: I want to say that none of you are going to live in your lifetime to see our system of taxation change based upon what you've heard here. I was eight years on a Finance Committee. None of them have served on that committee and, I'll tell you, the code stands that high and there's not a human being alive that understands it. It's with Democrats, with Republicans. They take care of the people. You think it's an accident that all of a sudden we wake up and the wealthy aren't paying a fair share? The only way they're going to pay a fair share is wipe out the income tax. It is corrupt. It is corrupting our society. Begin to put a place a tax that everybody will know what everybody is paying, and that's a retail sales tax. You can make it as progressive as you want. Keep in mind, a tax where everybody will know what everybody is paying. You won't see it with this.

Tavis Smiley: Senator Dodd?

Christopher Dodd: Thank you, Tavis. I happen to believe very strongly that our tax and fiscal policies ought to reflect our moral values. Our tax and fiscal policies ought to be fair, responsible and pro growth as well. We live in a society where obviously it's going to be important to expand our economy so that jobs can be created and businesses can grow and people have an opportunity in this life. I'm deeply disappointed, as many. We had a very good period of time, I might say, under the Clinton administration where we balanced the budget. We had a tax policy that was much more fair. We need to get back to those days again where we had that kind of fiscal policy. One of the taxes that needs to be addressed because we're losing manufacturing jobs in this country. We today reward industries that leave America by giving them tax breaks. I would like to see us reward companies that stay in our inner cities, go to places where jobs ought to be created. That ought to be a part of our tax policies.

Tavis Smiley: Senator Clinton?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I clearly think that our economy was working a lot better in the 1990s. We had the creation of twenty-two million new jobs, a balanced budget and a surplus. Certainly, when the Bush administration came in, they were determined to tilt the balance back toward the privileged. We are paying a very big price for this because middle class and working families are paying a much higher percentage of their income. That was Warren Buffett's position that he pays about seventeen percent because, don't forget, it's the payroll tax plus the income tax. When you cut off the contribution at $90,000 or $95,000, that's a lot of money between $95,000 and the $46 million that Warren Buffett made last year. He's honest enough to say, look, tax me because I'm a patriotic American and I want to make sure our country stays strong and is fair. So, yes, we have to change the tax system and we've got to get back to having those with the most contribute to this country.

Tavis Smiley: Thank you, Senator. Senator Biden?

Joe Biden: Warren Buffett is right. I would eliminate the tax cut for the wealthy. They didn't ask for it, as someone earlier said. They don't need it. They're as patriotic as anyone else if you ask them. We've asked nothing of them. The second point is, understand what happened this last election in 2000. The first time in our history since we had the federal income tax, there was a fundamental shift of the burden from people who were wage earners away from people who were investors. For the first time in our history, we are in a position where those who are the wage earners are paying a bigger chunk than they should. It's got to shift back and the basis for them doing that is they really believe the wealthy know better. They think we don't know how. Average folks don't know how to make the economy work. It's all about their ideology. It's got to fundamentally change. You have to tax investment and you've got to give a break to wage earners.

Tavis Smiley: Thank you. Governor?

Bill Richardson: There's no question that there's tax unfairness in this country, but we have to rebuild the economy. Yes, the Bush tax cuts, the two percent, that has to go. But I would replace those Bush tax cuts with tax cuts for the middle class. I would reward companies that pay over the prevailing wage, that go into the inner cities, that go into rural areas. I would also have tax-free holidays for technology startups. Three years if they train people in the inner city, if they hire people over the prevailing wage. We need to rebuild this economy by being pro growth Democrats. We should be the party of innovation, of entrepreneurship, of building capital, getting capital for African American small businesses. We need to find a way in this country that we say that globalization must work for the middle class. We need to find ways also to use the tax code not just to simplify it, but to make it fair and also to generate jobs and reward entities in this country.

You can read the whole transcript or watch the full debate here.


At 11:53 AM, Anonymous cal1942 said...

It's almost embarrassing to hear Gravel's response and Richardson's was just plain evasive.

Someone should tell Gravel that the only truly fair tax is a steeply graduated income tax and his sales tax scheme is the type of crackpot notion unworthy of anyone serious about filling a leadership role. Richardson should be forced to go to places like Flint or Detroit to witness the fruit of his 'free trade' advocacy.

Edwards gave the most forthright response of the group.

I feel that along with putting dividends back into the earned income stream, the top two marginal rates should be raised to levels higher than before the Bush cuts. The current top rate should be increased still higher and a couple of higher rates added to the system on incomes well above 375,000.

There should certainly be far better tracking of capital gains; an area that seems wide open for cheating. Capital gains should also be graduated, not taxed at a flat rate.

Companies that outsource should pay massive draconian penalties.


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