Read: An unmistakable sign Kamala Harris is running in 2020
There is a good economic case for such a shift, Democrats argue. Families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution are earning just $133 more a month today than they were a decade ago. (For families in the top 5 percent, the figure is $7,548.) The middle class has gotten smaller and the poverty rate has not budged, while the the cost of health care, housing, child care, and education have all increased, in some places sharply. “This is an immodest proposal,” said Sarah Rosen Wartell, the president of the Urban Institute. “But we’re facing some big structural changes in the economy.”
There is a good political case, too, the theory goes. The Trump tax cuts, which were heavily tilted toward corporations and the richest-of-the-rich families, remain deeply unpopular among the voting public—indeed, they are less popular than the tax increases passed by Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, with most Americans saying the tax law did nothing to help them. Plus, despite all of the partisan fighting over Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior, Elizabeth Warren’s heritage, and Trump’s constant stream of misinformation, voters remain primarily focused on health care, immigration, and jobs. The idea is to offer them something radical and tangible.
Harris is offering as much as $3,000 a year for a single person or $6,000 a year for a married couple, on top of existing tax and transfer programs, disbursed either as a lump-sum tax refund or as a monthly payment. Working families making less than $100,000 a year would qualify, including those making close to nothing. As many as 80 million Americans would benefit, Harris’s office has estimated, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculating that the proposal would lift 9 million people out of poverty, including nearly 3 million kids.
It is big, in other words, as are the other cash initiatives coming from the left. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Ro Khanna of California have put forward an ambitious tax plan that would double the earned income-tax credit (EITC) many families receive and make 20 million more Americans eligible for the benefit. Roughly 50 million Americans would get more money from Uncle Sam. “Americans are working longer hours, but too many aren’t seeing that hard work reflected in their pay,” Brown said, introducing the proposal. And Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey has proposed extending the EITC to millions of family caregivers and students.
Read: Left economy, right economy
If it looks like class warfare, that is because, in some sense, it is—making the government more redistributive than it is now, and more redistributive than it was during the Barack Obama years. An analysis of Harris’s proposal by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds it to be roughly the same size as the Trump tax cuts. But the average family in the bottom income quintile will see $100 in benefits from Trump’s tax initiative as of 2019, with the average family in the middle getting $800 in benefits and $55,190 for those in in the top 1 percent. In contrast, Harris’s legislation would have families in the bottom and middle of the income distribution benefit by $2,000 on average, with no effect on those at the top.