The wealthiest 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the entire middle class, according to the nonprofit Brookings Institute. It’s a disconcerting statistic that has left many Americans longing for an overhaul of the tax system: In fact, 68% of Americans said making sure the country’s top earners pay their fair tax share was “extremely important,” according to a recent Hart Research Associates poll.
Now, two Democratic lawmakers are posing a solution to narrow this widening wealth gap. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Don Beyer will unveil “major new tax legislation” called a “Millionaires Surtax” on Thursday. The bill would add an additional 10% tax on top of existing tax rates for families whose incomes exceed $2 million per year for married couples filing jointly, and $1 million for single filers. The Tax Policy Center estimates the legislation, if enacted, would raise $635 billion over a decade.
“The Republican tax cuts, as we feared, led to enormous benefits for the wealthy and budget-busting deficits. Our legislation would address both of these shortcomings in a way which helps working people,” Rep. Beyer said in a statement to TIME. “It also specifically prevents tax avoidance, which has been an enormous problem in enforcing our tax code.”
Since the surtax would apply equally to all forms of wealth earned from investments—versus just income—loopholes would be nearly impossible. Additionally, because the surtax is an add-on to the current tax-code structure, it would be fairly simple to implement, the lawmakers argue.
The proposal is not far off from the ones proposed by progressive 2020 candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, calls for a 2% annual tax on households with net worths between $50 million and $1 billion, and a 3% annual tax on families whose net worths exceed $1 billion. Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, would add a 1% tax for married couples who exceed $32 million in net worth, 2% for families whose net worths are $50 to $250 million. His proposal taps out at an 8% additional tax on families with over $10 billion in assets.
“There’s a lot of folks who are putting out there really major tax reforms,” Frank Clemente, the executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, tells TIME. “Let’s put it this way, members of Congress haven’t yet. The public is way ahead of members of Congress on these things. I view the surtax as a more moderate, practical first step for a member of Congress to put their name on.”
Clemente calls the Van Hollen-Beyer proposal a “very elegant way to raise a substantial amount of money” to invest in policy areas like healthcare, education and housing solutions, and protect existing services like Medicaid and Social Security — which is at risk of exhaustion. Current projections by the Social Security Board of Trustees predicts benefits are expected to be payable in full until 2037, at which point the reserve might be depleted.
“The Millionaires Surtax is about making the American Dream more real for all families — and it has widespread support from people across the country,” argues Van Hollen. Support in the Senate, which is currently GOP-controlled, may be a little harder to come by, however.
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