Tax Sells? Sanders, Clinton both pitching tax hikes in Dem primary

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the observation that nothing is certain “except death and taxes.”

Bernie Sanders would probably agree, and then some. In an election season marked by populist anger, his plan to raise at least $19.58 trillion in higher taxes over 10 years -- almost 20 times the tax hikes Hillary Clinton proposes -- has not dulled his rise.

And, despite the anti-tax fervor of the Tea Party wave a few years ago, neither Democratic candidate seems shy about pushing an aggressive tax plan in their presidential primary battle.

"Raising taxes in the Democratic primary is a vote winner," said Grover Norquist, of the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform.

Sanders, for one, was defiant about his proposed tax hikes at a CNN town hall on Monday.

"I start off with the premise that in the last 30 years ... there's been a massive redistribution of wealth in this country," Sanders said. "It's gone from working families, trillions of dollars, to the top one-tenth of 1 percent."

Sanders is beating Clinton by nearly 15 percentage points in New Hampshire, and is virtually tied with her in Iowa, in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average. His popularity largely is attributable to his message about the need for wealth redistribution.

The Vermont senator seemingly has tapped into a tried-and-true socialist formula in times of economic hardship -- blaming private-sector corporations and the wealthy. "What this campaign is about is to say to profitable corporations who, in some years don't pay a nickel in taxes, to the wealthiest people in this country who sometimes have an effective tax rate lower than truck drivers or nurses, yes, you are going to start paying your fair share of taxes," he said.

That message especially rings true for young Democrats, a demographic group burdened with college debt and poor job prospects, and heavily represented in the public sector.

"So much of the Democratic activist base are government employees or people who get government grants,” Norquist explained. “So when he talks about raising taxes, his enthusiasts ... are hearing they will not be paying higher taxes. They think they will be getting more money."

Clinton has steered clear of a broad-based policy to increase taxes on the middle class, while partially tapping into Sanders’ class warfare rhetoric. In a January Democratic debate, she tried to explain their distinctions on taxes: "I'm the only candidate standing here tonight who has said I will not raise taxes on the middle class. I want to raise incomes, not taxes, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that the wealthy pay for debt free tuition, for child care, for paid family leave."

Kyle Pomerleau, of the Tax Foundation, said Clinton’s proposals are “closer to what the Obama administration has proposed."

"More targeted higher-end tax increases on investment income, also high-income earners rather than broad tax increases for all Americans," he said.

Here’s how the plans stack up.

Among Clinton’s proposals:

  • The New College Compact to limit the cost and debt of a college education. Costing $350 billion over 10 years, she says it would be paid for by limiting certain tax breaks for high-income taxpayers.
  • A $275 billion infrastructure plan, paid for through business tax reforms.
  • Clinton also promises to expand ObamaCare. She wants to lower co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as reduce the cost of prescription drugs. But she has not spelled out specifically how such programs would be paid for.

Among Sanders’ tax proposals, many meant to help pay for a government-run health care system that replaces ObamaCare:

  • Business health care premium tax: $6.3 trillion over 10 years
  • Ending tax-free status of employer health insurance: $3.1 trillion
  • Wall Street speculation tax: $3 trillion
  • Individual health care premium tax: $2.1 trillion
  • Social Security tax hike: $1.2 trillion
  • Marginal income tax rate increase: $1.1 trillion
  • Corporate offshore income tax: $1 trillion
  • Capital gains tax hike: $920 billion
  • Payroll tax hike: $319 billion
  • Estate tax: $243 billion
  • Ending tax deductions: $150 billion
  • Energy tax: $135 billion
  • Carried interest tax: $15.6 billion

Sanders says that while taxes would rise under his plan, health costs would drop.

Sanders’ home state of Vermont also had such a plan  for a state-run, single-payer system, but Gov. Peter Shumlin shelved it in late 2014 after learning how much it would cost in new taxes.