Mar 1, 2021
Elizabeth Warren Press Conference on Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act Transcript March 1
Senator Elizabeth Warren held a press conference on March 1, 2021 to explain her wealth tax proposal. Read the transcript of the briefing on the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act here.
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Elizabeth Warren: (00:05)
Speaker 2: (00:05)
Elizabeth Warren: (00:07)
Good morning. It’s so good to be in person, as it is. You all pick your spots there. I’m Elizabeth Warren, the Senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I am here with my colleagues, Brendan Boyle from Pennsylvania and Pramila Jayapal from Washington State. And we’re here to talk about the wealth tax. It is time for a wealth tax in America. I want to remind everybody with the wealth tax is. It is a tax on the fortunes above $50 million. In other words, your first 50 million is free and clear but your 50 millionth and first dollar you got to pay two cents. And two cents on every dollar after that, until you hit a billion. When you hit a billion, you got to pay a few cents more.
Elizabeth Warren: (01:00)
This is a wealth tax that has been needed for a long time. We need it to produce more revenue, to create more opportunity in America. But it is a wealth tax that we particularly need because of the changes in this country under the pandemic. We have watched the wealth of the billionaire class in America increase by more than a trillion dollars over the last year. A two cent wealth tax, or just help level the playing field a little bit and create the kind of revenue that would let us build back better, as Joe Biden says. Would let us make the investments in our children, investments in infrastructure, investments in a clean economy, investments in America’s future. So I’m delighted to be here today to roll this out and to take questions. But first we want to hear from Congressman Boyle and let me put my mask back on.
Brendan Boyle: (02:03)
I’ll yield to-
Elizabeth Warren: (02:05)
Pramila Jayapal : (02:09)
Thank you so much, senator so grateful for your tremendous leadership on this for quite some time now, and to my colleague in the house, we’re thrilled to be working on this in partnership with the senator.
Pramila Jayapal : (02:21)
This is a moment where I think structural inequality and inequity has really been laid bare during this pandemic and the economic crisis. It is a moment where one in seven families don’t have enough to eat, more than eight million people have been pushed into poverty, nearly one million new people every week are filing unemployment claims. And that’s on top of the more than 75 million who have lost their jobs. This historic loss of jobs has also led to a historic loss of healthcare and all of this has happened as we’ve surpassed 512,000 deaths due to COVID. But as working families have struggled and as their savings have dried up and food banks have been overwhelmed, as the senator said, the rich have only gotten richer.
Pramila Jayapal : (03:06)
US billionaires have become $1.3 trillion richer since COVID began, that is a 44% jump in their wealth just since March. And it’s not just a few billionaires getting wealthier, there have been 46 new billionaires created during this pandemic. Now today, the richest 1% own 35% of the nation’s wealth and the richest one 10th of 1%, that’s 0.1%, own more than 18% of America’s wealth. And then just compare that to the entire bottom half of Americans owning just 1.5% wealth. So in the simplest terms, there are the richest 130,000 families in America who hold nearly as much wealth as the bottom 117 million families combined.
Pramila Jayapal : (03:57)
Now, I want to just spend a minute on black and brown and indigenous families and the racial wealth gap, because this is really critical. It’s particularly staggering when you look at racial inequality, as related to wealth. White families have an average wealth that is more than 14 times as much as black families and eight times as much as Latinx families. And in fact, the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than all, all, black households and a quarter of latino households combined. That’s happening as one in three black and Latinx families have zero or negative wealth. And for Asian Americans, a group that is way too little studied and there’s way too little information here income and wealth distribution, inequality has gone from being one of the most equal to actually one of the most unequal among major racial groups in the United States.
Pramila Jayapal : (04:53)
Now this is no accident. Our history is that much of the wealth of white families was accumulated at the expense of black, brown and indigenous families, from legalized slavery to red lining. The extreme inequality and concentration of wealth and racial inequity is baked into our tax system because we only tax income and wages and not wealth, that has been a mass through business or equity or real estate, fine arts. And then we pass it down through inheritances remaining free of taxes for the most part the whole time. So it’s a wealth inequality level that no other leading country in the world has seen.
Pramila Jayapal : (05:34)
Our legislation, as the senator said, finally helps just level the playing field and ensures that the wealthiest begin to pay their fair share. And it does so all the while investing trillions of dollars into our communities. You already heard what it does, a 2% annual tax on those who have a net worth between 50 million and a billion dollars. And yeah, you pitch in a little bit more if you’ve got more than a billion. But if you’re like 99.95% of Americans who have a net worth of less than $50 million, you pay nothing new, not a penny. This tax only impacts a 100,000 households, the top 0.05%. but still it would bring in $3 trillion over 10 years just imagine what we could do with $3 trillion. That’s COVID relief, that’s healthcare, it’s infrastructure, education, a transition to renewable energy and affordable housing all the while reducing that racial wealth gap. That’s why the majority of Americans support an ultra millionaire tax poll after poll has found that voters are with us on this, that it is time for the rich to pay their fair share. It’s not just Democrats, it’s moderates, it’s Independents, and even a plurality of Republicans. So I’m looking forward to working on this in the house with my colleagues and to bringing finally a fairness and an equity to our system. Thank you. And I yield now to a great gentlemen from the state of Pennsylvania, Mr. Boyle.
Brendan Boyle: (07:10)
Thank you. Well, thank you. I’m Congressman Brendan Boyle, as Pramila mentioned, from Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, also a member of the Ways and Means Committee and vice chair of the committee on the budget. I want to thank Senator Warren and my colleague in the house, Representative Jayapal. I’m just very excited to be working with them on this concept. As some of you know, who might cover tax issues I’ve been working on and my staff and I working on this concept for the last couple of years now, and really believe in working with these two outstanding legislators that the time is right.
Brendan Boyle: (07:48)
What we’re talking about here today is bigger than just one piece of legislation. It goes to the heart of the American dream itself. I was raised in a household that believed in the American dream, almost like it was our religion. My father came to America when he was 19, spent the next 50 years working blue collar jobs because he believed in the American dream. And I tell you this, the hyper concentration of wealth among the top one 10th of 1% is a mortal threat to the American dream. Consider, in the last generation while the share of the wealth owned by the very top has tripled, the size of the great American middle-class has shrunk and it has shrunk according to PEW considerably. This is the first generation, mine is the first generation, in American history that can say they have seen the decline of the size of the American middle-class.
Brendan Boyle: (08:48)
As Elizabeth was recently reminding me when we were speaking, an American born around the same time as my father had a 90% chance to make more than his parents did. While an American born around the same time I was, has about a 50-50 chance. That’s not consistent with the American dream. The unprecedented spike in wealth among a tiny sliver of the population is stifling both opportunity and social mobility. So the wealth tax is both a fair and necessary step to begin to address this existential challenge.
Brendan Boyle: (09:26)
Now, let me address two criticisms I’ve heard from the outset. First, there are those who will say this is socialism or communism or God knows what else they’ll come up with. Well, they said the same exact thing about Franklin Roosevelt’s proposals in the 1930s. They were wrong then, and they were wrong now. Franklin Roosevelt, wasn’t a socialist, he saved capitalism in the United States, and this proposal was offered very much in that same spirit. Second, there are those who say, I’ve even seen as recently as this morning, those who say that this tax is both unprecedented and unconstitutional. The reality is this concept is not new and it’s perfectly legal.
Brendan Boyle: (10:09)
In fact, I standing here will tell you, I already pay a form of a wealth tax, and I’m not a millionaire, far from it as my wife will tell you. Many of you probably pay that same wealth tax, it’s called the property tax. That’s a tax on an asset you own. The only difference between that concept and ours is twofold. First, we’re saying that it’s all of your assets cumulatively, that in excess are more than $50 million before it kicks in. So that is the two differences. First is that it’s cumulative, we’re looking at all the assets. And then second, we are providing an exemption worth $50 million.
Brendan Boyle: (10:51)
I’ve gotten this question today as well about what will happen next in this. I will tell you, I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that this is an idea, a concept that will go very quickly from impossible to inevitable, because it is fair and it is right, and it goes to the very heart of what this country stands for. Thank you.
Elizabeth Warren: (11:15)
Super. Good. So we’ll take questions. How about if we start with any questions around the wealth tax, and then if you’ve got other questions, we’ll stay for those. Sure.
Speaker 5: (11:24)
First question, Senator Warren, do you believe this wealth tax should go in the second reconciliation bill and if so, when you think that will come around?
Elizabeth Warren: (11:29)
Look, I’d be delighted to see us move forward with the wealth tax at any point. It’s something we need in America, and that’s why we’re out here today, we’re putting it out so everyone can see it and start to talk about it. It’s got a lot of details in how it works, it’s got things like what the rate will be for monitoring the income and checking out each of the billionaires that are subject to it and the ultra millionaires. But we want to put it out there so people can start to consider it and put it in a package, we need to move forward on this.
Speaker 5: (12:06)
I asked that only because the COVID bill shows the struggle of getting Republican votes for President Biden’s agenda. What happens, do you think broadly, to aspects of his agenda including taxes if things keep getting bottled up [crosstalk 00:12:18].
Elizabeth Warren: (12:18)
There are two answers to that. The first one is every time the Republicans want to talk about cost, then we should be talking about revenue and that’s the wealth tax. They want to complain about what things cost, we’re putting forward away to pay. This is a way to make sure that we are being fiscally responsible going forward. And the second is you raise the question of the filibuster, look, we can’t give Mitch McConnell and the Republicans a veto over the work that needs to be done in America. America elected Democrats to come here and get things done and it is our responsibility to do that. Not to hand Mitch McConnell an automatic no on anything that he and his billionaire friends don’t like. If you want to add anything, either one of you step up. Brendan, go ahead.
Brendan Boyle: (13:13)
I’ll do it.
Elizabeth Warren: (13:13)
Brendan, go ahead.
Brendan Boyle: (13:13)
I’ll just say real quickly. Look, we obviously had a debt and deficit issue before this. Over the last year we have spent from the CARES Act through what we just voted for in the house well, past midnight, the other night. We’ve been spending a lot of money. And by the way, I voted for every single one of those, I absolutely support it. But I recognize that at some point we are going to have to turn to revenues. Well, here is a fair way to do it. Here is where as Willie Sutton once said when asked why rob banks, here’s where the money is. This is a hell of a lot better way to get revenue than taxing middle class and poor people in this country.
Elizabeth Warren: (13:57)
Speaker 6: (13:58)
You started with these comments talking about the inequality of the pandemic, why isn’t this a part of the COVID bill?
Elizabeth Warren: (14:06)
Right now in the COVID package, we’re putting together emergency relief, which means it’s not about the revenue side, it’s about where we need to spend money. And as the Biden administration has made clear, we need to spend money on getting the vaccines out the door, we need to spend money on making sure that people who need help the most are getting that help and we need to spend money on getting our schools open. That’s the thrust of COVID relief. Now what we need to turn to is build back better. We need to turn to infrastructure, childcare, pre-K, college. We need to turn to the things that create investment and opportunity going forward. And to do that a wealth tax is the best way to pay for it. Yes.
Speaker 7: (14:56)
So scholars have said there might be constitutional issues with this, can you address that? [inaudible 00:15:01] concerns.
Elizabeth Warren: (15:02)
We have included in the package, multiple letters from scholars who are confident that there are no constitutional issues here. And really I’ll just stop there because there’s not much more to say you can kind of go into the individual pieces and the arguments. But we tax income in the United States, we tax estates in the United States, we’re already taxing property in the United States. The difference is the congressmen identified, this is a tax that hits only the top one 10th of 1%. We’re talking a lot about fairness in our tax system, the 99% in America are paying an average of about 7.2% of their total wealth in taxes. That top one 10th of 1%, they’re paying about 3.2%. Adding two cents in a wealth tax means they’re still getting a great deal, but it’s time for them to pay a fair share. And I am completely confident that this is a constitutionally responsible way to do it.
Pramila Jayapal : (16:24)
I just wanted to add something in terms of people paying a wealth tax now. Brendan mentioned real estate, but also when you die, your estate is valued and you have to pay taxes at that point. So it’s not like we don’t already have this, we already are doing this. We just happened to be giving a lot of people a big break all along the way where they’re accumulating more and more wealth, which is again why these inheritances, as they’re passed down, actually impact a smaller and smaller group of people, largely white, because that’s where the wealth was to start with. You don’t have to pay any tax on it until you transfer it. And so, I think that there’s a lot of reasons why this stands up constitutionally.
Elizabeth Warren: (17:06)
Actually I should just add because Pramila makes the point that I just want to make sure everyone sees it. We do the valuation now, too. We do the valuation for all of the big estates, we just do it at death, but that happens every year if somebody dies. And so we’re doing those valuations. What we’re saying is you do the evaluations every year and of course, once you’ve done them they become much easier year over year, over year. Once you’ve identified that somebody has a Rembrandt painting, they better still have a Rembrandt next year or are they better have a whole lot of millions of dollars that they can account for when they sold the Rembrandt. So this is already in tax process. What’s different about it, is it truly focuses on the richest people in this nation, the people who could afford to pay a fair share.
Elizabeth Warren: (18:00)
Understand their wealth will continue to grow, during the pandemic they have increased, the billionaires have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion. But they’ve been growing their wealth for years now at 6%, 8%, 10%, 12%. They have their own money managers. They’re own people who manage these great fortunes. A two cent wealth tax means they just don’t grow it quite as fast, but that two cents is an enormous difference for the rest of America. It is an opportunity for every child in America to have universal pre-K and opportunity for every child to have childcare paid for and every parent, and to raise the wages of every childcare worker, we can make a huge difference with this wealth tax.
Speaker 8: (18:54)
So if you could expand more on your calls to end the filibuster. It doesn’t have necessarily 51 votes yet, do you anticipate that as time goes on and you have other proposals from the Biden agenda that might be stymied by the lack of having 60 votes, do you anticipate that more of your colleagues will join you in calls to end the filibuster? Because that seems to have been a roadblock for Democrats for some [inaudible 00:19:18]?
Elizabeth Warren: (19:21)
The filibuster is something that gives Mitch McConnell a veto, and that has to stop. We watched him use it during the Obama administration and he is already using it now during the Biden administration. We weren’t elected to come here and be a debating society that gives Mitch McConnell a veto on every single piece of legislation that is needed to help American families. I believe that as we talk about the pieces that we’re trying to move forward, whether it’s the minimum wage, whether it’s protecting the vote across America, whether it’s anti corruption, whether it’s universal childcare and universal college for all of our kids, that more and more people will see what Mitch McConnell is trying to do. More people will see it across the nation and more people will see it in the senate. I believe we need to get rid of the filibuster now.
Speaker 8: (20:23)
If I could follow up with that?
Elizabeth Warren: (20:24)
Please. Of course.
Speaker 8: (20:26)
Do you agree with some of your house colleagues that the vice president should overrule the parliamentarian when it comes to the inclusion of minimum wage in the COVID relief package?
Elizabeth Warren: (20:37)
I agree, but understand the only reason that we’re in this mess is because of the filibuster. If we would get rid of the filibuster, then we wouldn’t have to keep trying to force the camel through the eye of a needle. Instead we would do what the majority of Americans want us to do. And in this particular case, that’s raised the minimum wage.
Speaker 8: (21:00)
Do you think the president should encourage the vice president to take that action then in the short term?
Elizabeth Warren: (21:04)
I think we should get rid of the filibuster. Yes, I think this is a short term solution, but the real solution is get rid of the filibuster. Please, Pramila.
Pramila Jayapal : (21:13)
Just to be clear as Chair of the Progressive Caucus and Brendan as a member, we have said the same thing. That there are really two choices here because we are in a place where we have to deliver on the many promises we’ve made. Passing H.R. 1, passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, passing a $15 minimum wage. All of these things are actually bi-partisan across the country. And so we have two choices here, I guess we have a third, which is to give Mitch McConnell the override, the veto power for everything that Democrats have promised and want to do. But the other is we can include it in reconciliation. Overruling the parliamentarian is not unprecedented. Hubert Humphrey did it in 1967 and 1969, Rockefeller did it in 1975. But if we’re not going to do that, then the other path is the filibuster and Elizabeth is right. This is all because of the way the rules were set up. And frankly, the filibuster was set up to really strengthen the power of southern segregationists and that is the history of the filibuster. So we should be very clear that I believe the President Biden wants to do everything he can to address racial inequity in this country and inequality. And if we are going to deliver on those promises, we will have to reform the filibuster.
Elizabeth Warren: (22:29)
Speaker 5: (22:30)
To follow up on that question. Did the parliamentarian’s decision give one issue that you can peg ending the filibuster to, as opposed to maybe after the entire agenda, is there a thread of your conversations to maybe just peg this conversation-
Elizabeth Warren: (22:48)
I don’t want a strategy. I want us to get rid of the filibuster because it is too costly to America. The piece in front of us right now is the minimum wage, but the piece that’s coming up is Voting Rights Act, and the piece after that is immigration reform and another piece is universal childcare. The infrastructure package is very different if the Republicans get a veto at every turn through that process. So if we want to deliver on our promises, we got to be willing to get out there and fight for it and that starts with getting rid of the filibuster. Brendan, you want to add something.
Brendan Boyle: (23:34)
Something real quick, because this has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time, and I have the opportunity. There’s one advantage of having a Philadelphian up on the stage. This very issue was debated at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. They consider the idea, if you read the Federalist papers, in two different sightings, Hamilton and Madison talk about this. They considered the concept of a super majority and they rejected it. So people who argue… I was on a TV show and the person brought this up, “Oh, well, you’re going against the way it’s always been. Our founding fathers.” Nonsense. That is complete garbage. That is bad history.
Brendan Boyle: (24:12)
The fact of the matter is our nation’s founders were quite smart. They were not perfect, but they were wise. They considered the super majority requirement, which is what the filibuster is. They considered a super majority requirement in the upper chamber and they rejected it and they rejected it for exactly what we’re seeing now, almost a quarter of a millennium later.
Elizabeth Warren: (24:32)
Speaker 9: (24:32)
Going off of that though, respectfully, you have two democratic colleagues of yours Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, who have also said that they don’t support ending the filibuster and they’ve been against raising the minimum wage in this provision of $15 an hour as well. So are you worried about pushing progressive policies through when you have opposition within your own party, and there is this division between progressive and moderates?
Elizabeth Warren: (24:59)
Look, I know that everyone likes to talk about the divisions within our party, but what brings us to Washington, as Democrats, is that we’re trying to make this government work for working people. I believe all of us are in favor of raising the minimum wage. I believe all of us are in favor of better support for our children and more housing opportunities, more investment in infrastructure. Now there are going to be ways that we’re going to have to negotiate with each other on those but the key is that we are here to get things done. And the more that Mitch McConnell blocks then I believe the case gets stronger and stronger for filibuster reform.
Speaker 2: (25:43)
We only have time for one more.
Elizabeth Warren: (25:45)
Just one more. Alrighty. Two more.
Speaker 10: (25:48)
Do Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi support the wealth tax? Do they support putting it on the floor for a vote?
Elizabeth Warren: (25:54)
You should ask them.
Speaker 10: (25:56)
You’re on the leadership team.
Elizabeth Warren: (25:58)
Speaker 10: (25:59)
Do you have [crosstalk 00:25:59].
Elizabeth Warren: (26:01)
I don’t want to speak for them. But I do want you to know, they know about this and we have spoken about this but I shouldn’t speak for someone else.
Speaker 7: (26:11)
Followup on minimum wage.
Elizabeth Warren: (26:11)
Speaker 7: (26:11)
Are the members here prepared to vote against the stimulus bill if it doesn’t have minimum wage? Are you making that explicit [inaudible 00:26:17]?
Elizabeth Warren: (26:18)
Pramila Jayapal : (26:19)
What we have said is we have to look at the final package. We have to look and make sure that it is not weakened in any way. I’m very proud of us in the house and Progressive’s were a key part of keeping, not only the $15 minimum wage in, but also the survival checks at the same income thresholds that were originally there in December. And so we need to see what’s in the final package, but we have made it clear that the minimum wage is a priority for us and that keeping it at the same level with the same items that we passed in the house is going to be very important for progressive’s.
Elizabeth Warren: (26:54)
Speaker 5: (26:54)
Quick wealth tax question?
Elizabeth Warren: (26:55)
Sure. We’ll do a real quick wealth tax.
Speaker 5: (26:57)
A real quick wealth tax. You had mentioned senator, revenues that [crosstalk 00:27:00] to this. Just to make sure I understand. Do you believe that those around you should go toward reducing the debt or to fund other priorities [crosstalk 00:27:07]
Elizabeth Warren: (27:06)
I think it should go to fund other priorities. But the point is, this is $3 trillion over the next 10 years. And yet it would affect only a hundred thousand families in America. And I just hope everybody dials in on that for a second. We talk about income inequality in this country and the slope kind of looks like this, but it’s wealth inequality where the slope looks like this. The difference between the very tippy top and the rest of America is enormous. And that very top is not paying a fair share. They are paying less than half of their wealth in taxes unlike the 99%. We’re saying you made it there, good for you, but pitch in two cents so that other kids in America have a chance to build a future. That’s what this is about, building a future. Good. Thank you and I want to thank my two colleagues for being here. It is terrific, always terrific, to work with good people from the house, but I’m delighted to have someone from Ways and Means, this is exciting. And I’m excited now to be in finance over on the senate side and I’m always delighted to be here with Congresswoman JayaPal in this and the leader of the progressive caucus. So thank you all for being here. Thank you.
Pramila Jayapal : (28:34)
Brendan Boyle: (28:34)
Elizabeth Warren: (28:34)
We did this. There we go.