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Fact Checker: Billionaires and Build Back Better
Advocacy group Tax March asks Iowans to encourage U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks to support Biden proposal
Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate want to pass two large pieces of legislation by the end of October.
One is a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which has support of both Democrats and Republicans. The second is the Build Back Better Act, a package that would cost an estimated $3.5 trillion over 10 years and includes free universal preschool, lower prescription drugs costs and electric vehicle tax credits.
Tax March, a Washington, D.C.-based left-wing advocacy group, announced last month a $2 million ad campaign to pressure members of Congress to support Build Back Better. One of those ads, targeting U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican representing Iowa’s 2nd District, is running in Iowa.
A 15-second ad that began airing Sept. 29 starts off saying: “During the pandemic, billionaires got $1 trillion richer.” A screen graphic says the net worth of U.S. billionaires went from about $2.8 trillion on March 18, 2020, to more than $4.6 trillion by Aug. 17.
“If they paid their fair share of taxes, that would mean expanding Medicare and lowering prescription drug prices,” the ad states.
Tax March asks Iowans to call Miller-Meeks and ask her to support Build Back Better.
For the “billionaires getting richer claim“ the ad cites an Aug. 24 report by the Institute for Policy Studies that says U.S. billionaires gained $1.8 trillion amid the pandemic. The institute, founded in 1963 by two members of the Kennedy administration, is a Washington, D.C., not-for-profit that focuses on peace and social justice as well as climate action.
For the analysis, is used Forbes’ 34th annual list of global billionaires for the pre-pandemic figures and Forbes’ “Richest in 2021” list for the August numbers. Forbes uses stock prices and exchange rates to compute an individual’s net worth at a given point in time.
We give Tax March an A on the first claim, which is based on solid data reported consistently over many decades.
The second claim is trickier. First, Tax March says if U.S. billionaires paid their “fair share” there would be enough money to cover the proposed changes in Build Back Better, specifically expanding Medicare and lowering drug prices. A spokesman for the group said by “fair share” its means the tax increases proposed by congressional Democrats.
To pay for Build Back Better, Democrats propose the top tax rate would rise to 39.6 percent for people annually earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for couples. There also would be a 3 percent surtax on Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year, the Associated Press reported. The proposal would increase the corporate tax rate from 21 to 26.5 percent on companies’ annual income over $5 million.
President Joe Biden tweeted Sept. 25 that Build Back Better would add “zero dollars” to the national debt because of the proposals to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet done an analysis of Build Back Better, probably because final bill language hasn’t been written, Forbes reports. The bill likely will be advanced under the reconciliation process, which starts with a congressional budget resolution, followed by committees writing separate bills to achieve the overall goals of the proposal. A reconciliation bill needs a only majority of the Senate to pass, rather than 60 votes to survive a filibuster.
So while raising taxes on the ultrarich would generate a lot of money, the CBO hasn’t done an analysis of how much. We also don’t yet know how much specific elements of Build Back Better — the ad mentions expanding Medicare and lowering drug prices — will cost over the 10-year period.
The goal of the Tax March ad is to raise awareness about the Build Back Better plan, which the group backs. It’s possible some Iowans will call Miller-Meeks and ask her to support the plan based on the ad, but there’s no specific dig on her in the spot.
The group’s first claim about the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses of the world increasing their net worth during the pandemic is true.
The claim that if these billionaires paid their “fair share” of taxes it would cover the cost of the $3.5 trillion over 10 years Build Back Better plan can’t be verified at this point. The Fact Checker considered whether to downgrade Tax March based on the speculative nature of the claim, but our tradition has been to not include unverifiable claims in our scores.
That said, we give Tax March an A for the one claim that can be measured.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at email@example.com.
Members of the Fact Checker team are Erin Jordan, Michaela Ramm and Marissa Payne. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.