Bernie Sanders, an independent, is a United States senator from Vermont. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
The United States of America faces several enormous structural crises that we must address.
We need to fund infrastructure projects and build affordable housing while transitioning our energy system away from fossil fuels toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. We also need to guarantee health care to Americans as a human right, while also expanding Social Security to ensure that 20% of our senior citizens are no longer forced to survive on an income of less than $14,352 a year. Finally, if we are going to be able to compete in a global economy, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world. That means we must make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free for working families.
These are expensive propositions, no question about it. But paying to fix these problems should not fall on the shoulders of working Americans who already pay the bulk of this nation’s taxes.
The good news is that we are living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. By demanding that the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country begin to pay their fair share of taxes, we can raise more than enough revenue to create a society that works for all of us.
Here are just a few ideas that can raise trillions in new revenue and save the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars, without asking the middle class or working families to pay a nickel more in federal taxes:
Lower prescription drug prices
We can no longer tolerate the pharmaceutical industry ripping off US taxpayers, the elderly and the sick by charging, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
It is way past time for Medicare and the federal government to do what every major country does: Negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. Through negotiations we can save about $456 billion over the next decade. This is enough revenue to allow us to expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses for seniors.
End offshore tax havens
We must end the absurdity of large corporations avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting their jobs to China and their profits to the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other offshore tax havens. According to the most recent estimates, more than half of the foreign profits by US multinational corporations were claimed in just 11 offshore tax haven countries.
By repealing the Trump tax breaks for large corporations, restoring the corporate tax rate to 35%, cracking down on offshore tax shelters and closing tax loopholes, we could generate at least $2.3 trillion in revenue .
Raise taxes on inherited wealth
Instead of giving billionaires a giant estate tax break like many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate have proposed, we must make sure that the wealthiest people in America who inherit massive fortunes pay their fair share of taxes. Enacting a progressive estate tax rate starting at 45% on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million could raise over $1 trillion in new revenue from the families of America’s 724 billionaires alone.
Establish a tax on financial transactions
We need to establish a tax of a fraction of a percent on the financial transactions of Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy back in 2008. Over 12 years ago, the middle class bailed out Wall Street during their time of need through billions of dollars in virtually zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve and hundreds of billions from the Treasury Department.
Now it’s Wall Street’s turn to rebuild the struggling middle class through a modest financial transactions tax of 0.5% for stocks, 0.1% for bonds and 0.005% for derivatives, which could raise up to $2.2 trillion over a ten-year period.
End fossil fuel subsidies
If we are going to make sure that our planet is healthy and habitable for future generations, we cannot continue to hand out corporate welfare to the fossil fuel industry. By abolishing dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies and other special interest giveaways to big oil, coal and gas companies we can save taxpayers billions over the next decade.
Despite what some of my Republican colleagues may claim, the reality is that when you take into account federal income taxes, payroll taxes, gas taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, we have, as a nation, an extremely unfair tax system that allows billionaires to pay a lower effective tax rate than many workers.
That must change. We need a progressive tax system based on the ability to pay, not a regressive tax system that rewards the wealthy and the well-connected.
If Congress has the guts to take on large corporations and the billionaire class whose greed is destroying the social fabric of America, we can both reduce income and wealth inequality and create a more egalitarian society.
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