Political News

Harris tax plan focuses on middle class relief, not the ultra-rich

Posted January 28, 2019 6:46 p.m. EST

— While many progressive Democrats are looking at squeezing taxes out of the rich, newly declared presidential candidate Kamala Harris is focused on a more traditional goal: tax relief for the middle class.

California's junior senator, who officially announced her 2020 presidential bid on Sunday, says the middle class has been ignored. So she wants to provide them -- along with lower-income working families -- a tax credit of up to $6,000 a year to help them keep up with living expenses, a tax gift worth $3 trillion over 10 years.

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both potential 2020 candidates, and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have all laid out plans to dramatically hike taxes the ultra-wealthy. Warren, who is exploring a run, last week unveiled a proposal to levy a wealth tax on those worth more than $50 million, while Ocasio-Cortez has suggested imposing a 70% tax on income above $10 million to pay for a "Green New Deal" that would include a jobs guarantee and investment in renewable energy.

Harris, on the other hand, is calling for directly making funds available to middle class and working Americans -- an approach that sounds less politically radical than her rivals' but is focused on addressing the immediate concerns of voters.

"They are mirror images of each other," said Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Harris' "focus is really on giving a big tax credit to low- and moderate-income people. She's focusing less on how she's going to pay for it. Warren is exactly the opposite. She's focusing mostly on taxing rich people and not saying very much yet on what she'd do with the money."

Harris, who will participate in a CNN town hall from Iowa Monday night, also supports raising taxes on the richest top 1%, said Lily Adams, her communications director. The senator first introduced her middle class tax credit idea last fall after hearing from people whose paychecks are not meeting the cost of living in the country,

Her legislation would provide a refundable tax credit of $6,000 for married couples earning up to $60,000 a year. Single filers making up to $30,000 and single parents earning up to $80,000 would get a credit of $3,000. The credit would then start to phase out. Couples and single parents with earnings of more than $100,000 and single filers making more than $50,000 would no longer be eligible.

Unlike a typical tax credit, though, the bill would also allow taxpayers to receive the benefit -- up to $500 -- on a monthly basis. This would provide families with an alternative to taking out payday loans, which usually come with very high interest rates, according to the proposal.

The total cost, however, would be a pricey $3 trillion over 10 years, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found.

Harris proposes to pay for it by repealing the provisions of the 2017 GOP tax law that benefit those making more than $100,000 and placing a fee on financial institutions. But experts say that's not enough to cover the cost.

The goal of the bill, titled LIFT the Middle Class Act, or Livable Incomes for Families Today, is to broaden the tax benefits given to working Americans. It would supplement the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a break to lower-income parents with jobs. Harris' bill, however, would offer a credit to those without children, too.

Expanding the EITC to more folks -- particularly childless men -- has long had bipartisan support, though Republicans more recently have cooled on the idea because of the cost, said Alan Viard, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. And the GOP is not likely to back legislation offered by a Democratic presidential candidate.