Sen. Booker takes on Sen. Warren on tax plan and 'growing wealth'

Candidates show a divide on wealth tax proposals and creating new opportunities for all at Democratic debate

While Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren championed her wealth tax alongside her fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage in Atlanta Wednesday night, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said the party needs to talk about more than just taxing wealth – they also must provide Americans with opportunities to create and grow wealth.

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Booker was asked whether he agreed with Warren’s wealth tax, to which he responded that he agreed with the premise that the country’s wealthiest individuals should pay more – but he doesn’t believe in her wealth tax proposal.

“I think we all agree we need to bring in a lot more revenue in this country,” Booker said early in the debate, “We as Democrats need to fight for a just taxation system, but … we Democrats also have to talk about how to grow wealth, as well.”

Booker said that while closing tax loopholes and raising the minimum wage are steps forward, the American people, including those in disadvantaged communities, want opportunities to create wealth, grow businesses – “to have their American dream.”

Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sa

“The people in the communities I frequent, their aspiration for their lives is not just to have those fair wages. They want to have an economy that provides not just equalities in wealth, they want to have equalities in opportunity and that’s what our party has to be about as well,” Booker said.

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Warren fired back by listing off the myriad items her wealth tax could help pay for, like universal child care, free public college and alleviating the student loan debt crisis.

Booker said he agreed with all those goals, but a just taxation system could bring in the same amount of revenue. He added that a wealth tax is "cumbersome, it's been tried by other nations (and) it's hard to evaluate." He then reemphasized, the need for creating pathways to prosperity.

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While he doesn’t support Warren’s wealth tax, Booker floated raising the estate tax and bringing the capital gains rates in line with ordinary income, which he described as “real strategies” that would increase federal revenue.

Warren did not back down from her wealth tax proposal, adding that she’s “tired of free-loading billionaires.” She did not address Booker’s idea of creating more opportunities to create wealth.

In January, Warren unveiled her plan to tax America’s richest individuals. The 2 percent tax would be applied to those with more than $50 million in assets. It was initially supposed to rise to 3 percent for those with assets valued at more than $1 billion, but she recently floated increasing the top rate to 6 percent to fund her Medicare for All plan.

The Massachusetts senator has received a lot of criticism over the proposal, including from a host of prominent businesspeople like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed a wealth tax, too.

Later in the debate, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar took a thinly-veiled jab at policies like those Warren wants her wealth tax to pay for – saying she’s not going to stand for things that “sounds good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car.”

“I think that we have an obligation … to be, yes fiscally responsible, yes think big, but make sure we have people’s backs and are honest with them about what we can pay for. And that is everything from sending rich kids to college for free … to kicking 149 million off their … current health insurance in four years,” Klobuchar said.

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