Elizabeth Warren pushes her wealth tax plan as a way to unite the country during Democratic primary debate

Key Points
  • During the fifth Democratic primary debate, Elizabeth Warren says her plans to tax the wealthiest Americans would help to unite the country. 
  • The wealth tax, the Massachusetts senator's signature proposal, has led to disputes with high-profile business leaders such as Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon.
  • Cory Booker disagrees with Warren's approach, saying he would not tax wealth in the way she proposes.
Elizabeth Warren: My wealth tax proposal is not about punishing anyone
Elizabeth Warren: My wealth tax proposal is not about punishing anyone

Elizabeth Warren took every chance early in Wednesday's Democratic debate to promote a wealth tax — her signature 2020 campaign plan that has led to sparring with titans of the business world.

Asked about what she would do to unite the country, the Massachusetts senator pointed to her proposals to hike taxes on the richest Americans. She described them as part of a push to "build an America that works for the people, not just one that works for rich folks."

"When you make it big, when you make it really big, when you make it top one-tenth of 1% big, pitch in two cents so everybody else gets a chance to make it," Warren said during the MSNBC-Washington Post debate in Atlanta. "And here's the thing: that's something that Democrats care about, independents care about and Republicans care about."

The senator aims to fund sweeping social programs through new taxes on wealth, corporations and the financial industry. A 2% tax would apply to wealth between $50 million and $1 billion, while net worth above $1 billion would face a 6% levy.

Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren participates in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have made reining in the excesses of corporations and the richest Americans the centerpiece of their 2020 presidential campaigns. Their rhetoric sometimes mirrors comments made by President Donald Trump — the man they hope to challenge next year — during a 2016 campaign tinged with populism.

Warren's plans targeting wealthy Americans have ruffled feathers in the most powerful corners of the financial world. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and billionaire investor Leon Cooperman have argued Warren's proposals vilify success and could threaten economic growth.

The senator said Wednesday that her tax plan "is not about punishing anyone."

While Sanders and billionaire activist Tom Steyer also back a wealth tax, some of Warren's 2020 rivals have opposed the idea. Despite an insistence across the field on balancing income inequality and boosting working families, several contenders have argued a wealth tax is not the best approach.

During Wednesday's debate, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., argued for raising more tax revenue by targeting "tax loopholes" and "tax cheats."

"I don't agree with the wealth tax the way that Elizabeth Warren puts it, but I agree we need to raise the estate tax. We need to tax capital gains as ordinary income," he said.

The wealth tax has become a campaign rallying cry for Warren, as she calls for the wealthy to contribute "two cents" for every dollar. It helped to propel her to the top tier of Democratic candidates, according to both national and early nominating state surveys. Her standing in polling averages has recently plateaued.

In February, a Morning Consult poll found 61% of voters — including half of Republicans — backed Warren's wealth tax. Only 20% of voters opposed it.

It is unclear whether the debate around the plan in recent months has affected public opinion.

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