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Trillions Of Dollars Can Be Raised By Closing Tax Loopholes, Sen. Sanders Says

NOEL KING, HOST:

House Democrats want to raise taxes on some people and on profitable corporations to pay for President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan. Some Democrats think the plan to tax goes too far. Some think it doesn't go far enough. I talked to Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

Do you think the tax plan that is being debated in the House Ways and Means Committee taxes the right things - whether people, corporations or inheritances - at the right rates?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I think there's a lot of ongoing discussion as to where we will end up. But, Noel, at a time when we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality, when you literally have billionaires paying nothing in federal income taxes, when dozens of major profitable corporations pay nothing in federal income taxes, it is clear to me that the time is now to demand that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. There is no question in my mind that we can raise many trillions of dollars by undoing a lot of the loopholes that currently exist.

KING: Does the bill as it currently exists address the loopholes though?

SANDERS: Look. And there's still a lot of debate. And you have - we have not yet seen the final product. But what we are trying to do is raise a sufficient sum of money to address many of the long-term structural problems facing working families. And that is the crisis with regard to child care and childhood poverty in America. We've got to deal with housing. We've got to deal with home health care. I'll tell you what else we have to deal with. We have to deal with the existential threat of climate change. This bill will put more money into transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel than any legislation by far in the history of our country.

KING: Our congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell pointed out on air the other day there was a point in history where no party was willing to talk about raising taxes. It was so poisonous that no Republican or Democrat with any sanity was going to do that. Now a lot of Americans are very frustrated that wealthy people don't pay taxes.

SANDERS: That's right.

KING: And yet a wealth tax does not seem like it's going to happen this time around in this legislation. Is there any solution to the problem of billionaires dodging taxes that we might see in the next 12 months? And what is it?

SANDERS: Yeah. And I think you're going to see it within this bill, and there are a number of things you can be doing. In terms of the concept of a wealth tax, as you know, I ran for president precisely on that. When the people on top are doing phenomenally well while working class families are struggling, a wealth tax is certainly one thing that we should be doing. Do we have any Republican who's going to support that? No. Does every Democrat support that? No, for a variety of reasons.

KING: But that's...

SANDERS: But at the end...

KING: ...Your problem. I mean, you need them to (laughter).

SANDERS: No, it's...

KING: At least the Democrats - you need them to if you want to get this done.

SANDERS: Well, and that's true. But right now I think we should take an interesting look at why no Republican, zero, is supporting this legislation. Look. It is no great secret that what we are trying to do is pass the most consequential legislation since the 1930s and FDR and the New Deal. And we are doing that with a 50-50 split in the Senate. And I think Nancy Pelosi has three or four votes to spare in the House. So it is no great secret that you have conservative Democrats. You know, I wish everybody in the Senate and in the House agreed with my point of view. They don't.

KING: You would be aware of the historical trend where the party in power loses in the midterms. And I imagine you must also be thinking that this - I mean, you've said it - this might be the last chance for the better part of a decade for Democrats to make a mark on climate, family and tax policy. Do you feel a kind of existential deadline pressure to get this done?

SANDERS: Well, I think - this is what I think, Noel. The best shot that Democrats have is to understand that good policy is good politics, that when you stand up for working families, when you stand up to protect our kids and future generations from the devastation of climate - that not only is that the right thing to do. The American people will reward you. And that is why to my mind, both from a policy and a political point of view, it is imperative that the Democrats now, despite the very, very slim margins that we have in the House and the Senate, stand up firmly and say to working families all over this country, we do have the guts to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry, the greed of the health care industry. And we're going to do it. And you will understand which party had the courage to take these guys on and develop policies that improve lives of working families and which party, i.e. the Republican Party, did not.

KING: Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for taking the time.

SANDERS: Thank you very much. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.