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Sanders Calls for a 65% Top Estate Tax Rate

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One little-noticed provision in an appendix to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ new Medicare for All bill could increase the estate tax rate to 65% for individuals with more than $500 million in assets, and for couples with more than $1 billion in assets.

Sanders included that provision and other tax provisions in a document describing possible ways to pay for replacing current U.S. health insurance programs with a universal, government-run health insurance program for all.

The underlying bill now has a bill number: S. 1804., the government’s official legislation tracking database, has not yet posted the official text of the bill.

(Related: 10 Medicare for All and Graham-Cassidy Highlights, for Agents)

Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has posted a draft of the bill text here.

He posted a copy of the funding options document here.

Congress has narrowed the scope of the estate tax in recent years, often with some Democratic support.

Observers say Sanders is unlikely to be able to get S. 1804 onto President Donald Trump’s desk.

Sanders has lined up 16 cosponsors, and he is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. It’s not clear how many of the 16 S. 1804 cosponsors also support the proposals in Sanders’ funding options appendix. 

Sanders initially proposed a 65% estate tax rate for billionaires while he was campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton included that proposal in her campaign platform.

Sanders’ ideas about financing options could influence tax overhaul hearings now, and they could have more influence if the Democrats regain control of the Senate.

Sanders’ Estate Tax Proposal Details

Sanders says in his funding document that the estate tax now applies to only Americans in the top 0.2% of households in terms of wealth. He predicts that returning to the 2009 exemption levels and making the tax more progressive could raise $249 billion over 10 years.

Sanders wants to limit a single person to exempting just $3.5 million in estate value, and a couple to exempting just $7 million in estate value.

All estates now subject to the estate tax pay a flat 40% estate tax rate.

Sanders would increase the estate tax to 45% for individuals with estates with $3.5 million to $10 million in value; to 50% for individuals with estates with $10 million to $50 million in value; and to 55% for individuals with estates with $50 million to $500 million in value.

For the estates of individuals with more than $500 million in value, or couples with more than $500 million in estate value, he would add a 10% surtax. That would increase the top estate tax rate to 65%.

Sanders would also change the rules governing “grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) and other types of trusts and valuation techniques.”

Sanders did not give any details about how he would change the rules for GRATs and other types of trusts. He estimates that billionaires have used those techniques to save about $100 billion in taxes since 2000.

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