Biden capital gains tax hike would only hit 0.3% of households, advisor says

National Economic Council Director Brian Deese holds a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 26 2021.

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President Joe Biden’s top economic advisor on Monday defended a plan to raise the capital gains tax on the nation’s wealthiest households as neither too large a burden nor a barrier to business investment.

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said during a news conference that the president’s plan would raise the capital gains tax for 0.3% of U.S. households — those that make more than $1 million in annual income.

It’s “not the top 1%, it’s not even the top one-half of 1%,” Deese said from the White House. “For the other 997 out of 1,000 households in the country … this is not a change that will be relevant. It won’t change the tax treatment of capital gains at all.”

He explained that the proposed tax increase would target those households that do not typically derive the majority of their income through workplace wages.

“For the typical Americans, most of their income comes from wages,” he said. “So, for people making less than $1 million a year, about 70% of their income comes from wages. But for those making more than $1 million, for the top 0.3%, it’s the opposite. About 30% of their [income] comes from wages.”

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Though Deese did not mention a specific rate, his appearance Monday during a White House briefing lent credibility to reports that the administration will seek to hike the capital gains rate to 39.6% for households making more than $1 million.

Biden is expected to formally debut the proposal on Wednesday as a way to fund spending in the upcoming American Families Plan, thought to feature a price tag of around $1 trillion.

That piece of legislation, separate from the infrastructure-based American Jobs Plan, is believed to include measures aimed at helping U.S. workers learn new skills, expand subsidies for child care and make community college tuition free for all.

Asked to address criticism that raising the capital gains rate could dampen investment in U.S. business, Deese argued that there’s no evidence to support that claim. The capital gains tax is especially important to Wall Street since it dictates how large a chunk of an equity sale is collected by the federal government.

“Across a wide body of academic and empirical evidence, there is no evidence of a significant impact of capital gains rates on the level of long-term investment in the economy,” he said. “There’s lots of reasons for that, including that, if you look at where a lot of venture capital and early stage investment comes from, it actually comes from pension funds, wealth funds, entities that actually are not tax sensitive.”

Deese also contended that the revenue generated by a higher rate on the richest Americans could then be deployed in programs and subsidies that have been shown to increase economic output over time.

“Investments, for example, in early childhood and in our children return enormous dividends in terms of their own academic success, reduced cost in the health-care system, productivity and growth in the future,” the NEC director and former Obama official told reporters.

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