Biden's Infrastructure Plan Will Bring A Showdown Over Taxes

Democrats aren't yet on the same page when it comes to tax policy.

President Joe Biden is proposing a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan that would increase taxes on corporations to pay for roads, bridges and investments focused on mitigating climate change.

The infrastructure bill’s tax provisions will be Democrats’ first full-scale legislative attack on a Republican tax law they’ve reviled since 2017.

But Biden’s corporate tax proposals unveiled Wednesday represent just a fraction of the various tax hikes Democrats have talked about adding to the infrastructure bill. And there’s even a faction of moderates pushing a tax cut for some wealthy households as part of the package.

In other words, Democrats are going to have a big family conversation about taxes. It might even get ugly.

The White House on Wednesday outlined a Made in America Tax Plan to accompany the first part of the president’s infrastructure proposal, offsetting $2 trillion in spending over 15 years. The plan includes a host of corporate tax changes, mostly modifying elements of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Republicans passed in 2017.

The Biden plan would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% (still lower than the 35% rate before the GOP tax law), limit certain deductions and impose a higher minimum tax on global corporations.

The White House said it will introduce the second part of Biden’s infrastructure plan, which will focus on child care, family tax credits and other “soft” infrastructure programs, sometime next month, and that it will likely touch the personal side of the 2017 tax law. The president has said he would support higher taxes on individuals earning more than $400,000 annually. (White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said the $400,000 threshold would be for families, implying that lower-earning individuals could face higher taxes).

“Anybody making more than $400,000 will see a small to a significant tax increase,” Biden said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos earlier this month. “If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.”

It’s the individual side of the tax code where disagreements await ― and with Democrats holding tiny majorities in both the House and Senate, the disagreements could prove significant.

The White House signaled this week, for instance, that Biden dislikes Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a tax on the accumulated wealth of the richest Americans. The Massachusetts Democrat has pitched a 2% annual tax on fortunes above $50 million and a 3% tax on the net worth of households and trusts above $1 billion. The proposal would raise as much as $3 trillion over a decade. Even a weaker version could be useful if Democrats are concerned about the cost of their infrastructure proposals.

“The ultra-rich and powerful have rigged the rules in their favor so much that the top 0.1% pay a lower effective tax rate than the bottom 99%, and billionaire wealth is 40% higher than before the COVID crisis began,” Warren said when she unveiled the latest version of her proposal earlier this month.

Biden favors returning the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% from 37% and increasing the tax rate on capital gains for people with incomes above $1 million ― ideas Democrats support. He has also endorsed a more stringent estate tax, which is currently paid only by heirs to the wealthiest 0.1% of estates, and congressional Democrats have recently released similar proposals.

But there will likely be some disagreement about reversing the 2017 tax law’s limitation on household deductions for state and local taxes. A handful of House Democrats have even said they won’t vote for any changes to the individual side of the tax code unless they get back the full state and local tax deduction, or SALT, as it’s known by tax experts.

Limiting the deduction was one of the only things in the Republican tax law that actually disadvantaged high-income households. Some Democrats have complained that the change disproportionately hurt households in Democratic states such as New York; other Democrats have pointed out that repealing the limitation mainly benefits people with incomes above $1 million.

“The vast majority of the benefits of repealing the SALT cap would go to high-income Americans,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said on the Senate floor in 2019. “Repeal would be extremely costly, and for that same cost, we could advance much more worthy efforts to help working and middle-class families all over the country.”

Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $621 billion for roads, highways, bridges, and waterways, as well as additional investments to electrify vehicles, expand broadband, and make the nation’s infrastructure more resilient to climate change. It would also spend $400 billion to care for the elderly and people with disabilities, $300 billion toward building and retrofitting homes, and $300 billion on innovation and research.

The proposal faces an uncertain path in Congress, however. Biden is unlikely to find any GOP buy-in for a multitrillion-dollar spending bill that is financed via tax hikes, even on an issue like infrastructure that typically enjoys broad bipartisan support.

“The proposed $3.5 trillion in new taxes to pay for a grab bag of liberal priorities will not just be focused on the most wealthy but will hurt working Americans who are still trying to make ends meet during this pandemic,” said T.W. Arrighi, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They’re more focused on stimulating Washington, D.C.’s economy than helping workers and small businesses across the country.”

Democrats can pass the bill unilaterally with a simple majority in the Senate by using the same budget reconciliation process that allowed them to pass their coronavirus relief package. But doing so without Republican help will require total unanimity within the party, a difficult task given razor-thin majorities in both legislative chambers and competing demands from progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and conservatives like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

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