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Tom Steyer was the only billionaire on stage during Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Ohio, and the moderators used it to launch a discussion about how he and his rivals would tackle income inequality.
But it was the plan—and the answer—of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that sparked debate on the topic, as she taunted the other candidates whose own plans to tax the wealthiest Americans aren’t as far-reaching as hers.
“My question is not, ‘Why do Bernie and I support a wealth tax?’” Warren said, vocalizing support for her proposal to levy a two-cent tax on the accumulated wealth of people with more than $50 million. “It's, ‘Why is it, does everyone else on this stage, think it's more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation of Americans?”
Warren has said that her wealth tax will pay for a universal pre-K program, investments in historically black colleges and universities, and raising the wages of childcare workers.
The line landed Warren one of her loudest rounds of applause of the night, but it didn’t play well with her colleagues in the Senate. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who took Tuesday’s debate as an opportunity to roundly jab Warren every chance she got, swiftly fired back.
“I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth, because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires,” Klobuchar said, referring to Steyer, who has previously called for a one percent tax on those worth more than $20 million. “We just have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea.”
Klobuchar has previously said she would support removing Bush-era tax cuts for families making more than $250,000 annually, though that proposal would not address a family’s accumulated wealth, as Warren’s plan does.
“Taxing income is not going to get you where you need to be the way taxing wealth does,” Warren responded. “The rich are not like you and me. The really, really billionaires [sic] are making their money off their accumulated wealth, and it just keeps growing. We need a wealth tax in order to make investments in the next generation.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden had a garbled explanation for his own proposal to reduce income inequality. After suggesting that the government hike taxes on the sale of assets like stocks and bonds, he said, “Because guess what, why in God's name should someone who's clipping coupons in the stock market make, in fact—pay a lower tax rate than someone who in fact is, like I said, the a school teacher and a firefighter. It's ridiculous and they pay a lower tax.”
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)