Bernie Sanders has been calling for a revolution. And that’s pretty much what his tax proposals would help deliver.
For starters, Sanders’ plan would raise $15.3 trillion in new revenue over the first decade and another $25 trillion in the next decade, according to a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center.
That’s the “largest peacetime tax increase in history,” said Tax Policy Center director Len Burman.
Almost everyone would chip in something under his plan, but the highest income households would pay the most by far among individuals. Businesses would also help foot the bill in some major ways.
In addition to raising many current taxes, Sanders would introduce two new ones: a financial transaction tax on investors and a carbon tax that would be passed onto consumers by way of higher prices for energy, airfares, groceries and the like. But individuals with adjusted gross incomes under $100,000 would get rebates for that carbon tax.
If all the new revenue raised under Sanders’ plan went to reducing deficits it would wipe out all debt held by the public within 20 years, TPC estimates.
His campaign has asserted that many households would see higher after-tax income once their savings under those new programs are counted. But the Tax Policy Center could not model the spending side of Sanders’ proposals.
Here are some of the biggest tax changes he’s calling for:
Higher income tax rates across the board
Tax rates would go up across the board because Sanders would impose a 2.2% premium tax on all taxpayers to help pay for his Medicare for All plan.
Sanders would preserve the first four income tax rates on taxable income in today’s code (10%, 15%, 25% and 28%) and add to those the 2.2% premium tax.
But anyone with adjusted gross income over $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples) would then be subject to much higher rates than they currently pay. Instead of the 33%, 35% and 39.6% rates in today’s code, they’d be subject to rates of 39.2%, 45.2%, 50.2% and 54.2%, depending on how high their income goes.
A huge jump in capital gains taxes for some
The TPC analysis notes that Sanders’ plan would “dramatically increase” taxes on capital gains and other investment income for the wealthiest investors.
Today high-income investors pay a 20% rate on long-term capital gains plus a 3.8% Medicare surtax on at least some of their gains. Under Sanders, they could pay as much as 64.2%.
That’s largely because Sanders would tax capital gains as ordinary income and he’d increase the Medicare surtax to 10%.
“That rate on gains is well beyond any in recent U.S. history,” the report said.
And most economists and tax experts would normally agree that such a high rate would actually cause a revenue loss because investors would “aggressively try to avoid the tax.”
But Sanders’ plan would eliminate many of the usual tax-avoidance options available to them.
He would preserve today’s capital gains rates for anyone in at or below the 28% bracket.
A bigger payroll tax hit for many, including employers
The payroll tax burden for employers and for high-income households would go up notably.
To help bolster Social Security funding, Sanders would apply the 6.2% payroll tax to income over $250,000. Currently it only applies to the first $118,500 in wages.
In addition, he’d finance a paid family leave program by requiring all employees and their employers to pay an additional 0.2% payroll tax on the first $118,500 in wages.
Lastly, he’s proposing a new 6.2% payroll tax that employers would pay on all of an employees’ wages to help fund Medicare for All.
What Sanders’ plan means to taxpayers’ wallets
The plan would raise taxes across the board, by an average of $9,000 overall, lowering households’ after-tax income by about 12%.
But the biggest hit by far would be on high-income filers.
Those in the top 0.1% — i.e., those with income over $3.7 million — would see their tax bill go up by more than $3 million on average, reducing their after-tax income by 45%.
Middle-income households, meanwhile, would pay $4,700 more on average, or about 8.5% of their after-tax income.
And the lowest-income filers would pay about $165 more, which accounts for 1.3% of their after-tax income.
But many low-income filers would not see any tax increase. The report estimates that under Sanders’ plan, 69 million households (about 40%) would owe no tax because their income would be offset by various tax breaks. But that’s about 8 million fewer households than would otherwise be the case under today’s code.
The breadth of Sanders’ tax increases coupled with his ambitious proposals to provide free health care and college, among other things, is without precedent in modern U.S. history.
So that makes it tough to gauge their effect on the economy.
The TPC report suggests that his tax proposals “would substantially reduce incentives to save and invest in the United States.”
On the other hand, it notes that some of his spending proposals — for instance, to bolster education and infrastructure — could have very positive effects on long-term growth.
Nevertheless, the report concludes that “there is a risk that the very large tax increases could significantly weaken the U.S. economy.”
The Sanders campaign countered that the TPC report was “unfair” and “misleading.”
“Not only did the Tax Policy Center fail to estimate the savings the American people will gain under Medicare-for-all, they also fail to count the economic gains that would be achieved by Bernie’s plan to rebuild the middle class,” said Warren Gunnels, campaign policy director, in an email to CNNMoney.