Could using tax policy to reduce the gaps between the highest income Americans and middle and lower income people be an important, and maybe hot, issue ahead?
Sen. Tammy Baldwin indicated that was her perspective and that she was open to ideas for using tax reform changes to pursue that goal during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday at Eckstein Hall.
“We clearly have a system that has chosen, in certain policy decisions made, to reward wealth over work,” Baldwin said. “I think we have to question a system that works that way.”
Baldwin said some other countries have policies that limit the maximum salaries of CEOs in relation to the salaries of their employees. “I don’t think we’re going to see those kind of initiatives” in the United States, she said. “But that leaves the tax code really as our predominant way of looking at this and understanding this. . . . That’s an issue we should think about.”
Baldwin, who was elected to the Senate in 2012, reminded the audience that she was the leading sponsor when she was a member of the House of Representatives of what is often called the Buffett Rule – the idea that super-rich people should pay taxes at rates that are comparable to those of lower-income people. She pointed to people such as former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose tax returns, released during the 2012 presidential campaign, showed he paid taxes at a 13.9% rate, much lower than most middle class people.
“We’re at the very beginning of what will be a long discussion,” Baldwin said. Trends are worsening for the American middle class, she said, and people across the political spectrum are increasingly realizing that the state of the middle class is an issue. “Our middle class used to be the envy of the world.” Now, other countries have stronger middle classes, Baldwin said, adding, “What’s that about? When did that happen? Who was asleep on the job? I think of the middle class as being the backbone of our democracy and our economy.”
Baldwin was critical of the roll out last fall of the new federal health care system, often called Obamacare, but said the law is, overall, a big step forward, offering coverage to millions of people who need it. It needs more work and she wishes Wisconsin was taking an overall approach that took more advantage of what it offers, she said.
Gousha said that President Barack Obama had said the debate over the health care law is over. “Some folks didn’t hear him say that,” Baldwin said, saying it will be a major issue in some political races this year.
Baldwin said that while Congress remains highly polarized and “we’ve seen some low points recently” when it comes to the whether the Congress can reach agreement on major issues, there have been accomplishments also. The two-year budget agreement reached in December was the prime example she cited.
Baldwin spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage nationally and giving the state of the Great Lakes increased federal attention. She said she had not yet read the U.S. Supreme Court decision, released this week, on affirmative action programs, but “I suspect I’ll be sad” when she does. And she said she will do all she can to fight provisions being urged by European negotiators in work on a new trade agreement that would restrict the use by American food purveyors of some names for products such as bratwurst, certain cheeses, and certain beers. The changes could hurt Wisconsin, she said.
At the end of the program, an audience member said that some CEOs and celebrities are paid multi-million dollar annual salaries, while people on the minimum wage qualify for food stamps. “Something doesn’t seem right,” the audience member said.
“Absolutely,” said Baldwin.
The program may be viewed by clicking here.