MODERATOR: Secretary Clinton, let me ask you about your tax plan because from the crushing cost of college education, the next question most families have; is will my taxes go up under the next president? You have said it's your goal not to raise taxes on families making under $200,000 a year a goal. But can you say that's a promise as you stand here tonight?
CLINTON: That is a pledge that I'm making. I made it when I ran in 2008 ... the same one that President Obama made, because I don't think we should be imposing new big programs that are going to raise middle class families' taxes ... I don't think a middle-class tax should be part of anybody's plan right now.
SANDERS: When Secretary Clinton says, "I'm not going raise taxes on the middle class," let me tell you what she is saying. She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare and with the vast majority of progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, who today are fighting to end the disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth that doesn't provide paid family and medical leave. What the legislation [a plan Sanders proposed] is is $1.61 a week. Now, you can say that's a tax on the middle class. It will provide three months paid family and medical leave for the working families of this country. I think, Secretary Clinton, $1.61 a week is a pretty good investment.
CLINTON: I have a way to pay for it that actually makes the wealthiest pay for it...
MODERATOR: I want to bring in Governor O'Malley on this. We heard the promise from Secretary Clinton, because people want to know about their taxes — will they go up? She has now promised here tonight not to raise them on families making $250,000 or less. Can you make that same promise if you're elected?
O'MALLEY: No, I've never made a promise like that ... I agree, by the way, that we should have paid family leave. And I agree with Senator Sanders on that. And just like Social Security and unlike the Republicans, I think we should actually expand Social Security and increase average monthly benefits. [See my post: Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton on Social Security] But look, there's one big entitlement we can no longer afford as a country, and that is the entitlement that the super wealthy among us, those earning more than a million dollars, feel that they're entitled to pay lower income tax rates and a far lower preferred income tax rate when it comes to capital gains. If we were to raise the marginal rate to 45 percent for people earning more than a million dollars and if we tax capital gains essentially the same we do earnings from hard work and sweat and toil, you could generate $800 billion over the next ten years and that would do so much good for affordable college, debt-free college, cutting youth unemployment in half, investing in our cities again.
The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes:
In confirming her pledge not to raise taxes on any households making less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, Clinton said, "I don’t think we should be imposing new big programs that are going to raise middle-class families’ taxes." [See my post: Hillary Clinton thinks $250,000 a year is "Middle-Class" — when $250,000 a year is not a "middle-class" wage — that's in the top 1%.]
Sanders, however, was quick to point out an important implication of this commitment, which would exempt all but the richest two or three per cent of American families from the possibility of paying more to the Treasury: it rules out the introduction of any new programs modeled along the lines of Social Security and Medicare, which are financed by universal taxes.
Clinton insisted that she could finance paid leave by raising taxes on the wealthy. In general, though, she didn’t pay as much lip service to the anti-Wall Street, soak-the-rich wing of the Party as she had in previous debates. When ABC’s David Muir asked her, “Should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?” she replied, “Everybody should.” It was a good line, and it drew laughs from the audience, but it also carried a political message. “Look,” Clinton went on, “I have said I want to be the President for the struggling, the striving, and the successful.”
Sanders weighed in with a much less modulated response: “The C.E.O.s of large multinationals may like Hillary,” he said. “They ain’t going to like me, and Wall Street is going to like me even less.”
When the yakking was done, most of the insta-pundits predicted that it wouldn’t make much difference to the horse race. They may well be right, although I’m not quite so sure. At time when many Democrats, particularly younger ones, have moved to the left, Clinton’s efforts to appeal to the middle ground could conceivably cost her some votes in the primaries.
Sanders has long favored an income tax hike (on all wage earners) to pay for his most ambitious program, Medicare-for-All, which he introduced as a bill in the Senate in 2013. The plan was to be paid for by a 2.2% tax increase on employees, as well as a 6.7% tax on wages paid by employers (Clinton aides claim employers will pass the taxes on to their workers in the form of wage cuts.)
But Sanders senior policy advisor, Warren Gunnels, says: “We are still developing a Medicare-for-all plan. This plan will save middle class families thousands of dollars a year because they will no longer be paying [Obamacare] premiums or deductibles to private health insurance companies.”
Bernie Sanders also wants to expand and properly fund Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000 (which is currently $118,500) — on those that Hillary believes are "middle-class" — when members of Congress make $174,000 a year.
If and when Hillary Clinton ever learns who the "middle-class" really is, only then can she begin to understand and be genuinely concerned about average working Americans — and maybe by then, she can stop coddling the rich.