November 30,2023

Wyden Leads Democratic Colleagues in Introducing Billionaires Income Tax

Legislation cosponsored by 15 Democratic Senators would close loopholes in the tax code that let billionaires avoid paying their fair share

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today led colleagues in introducing the Billionaires Income Tax Act, legislation to ensure billionaires start paying their fair share in taxes.

Wyden is joined by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., John Fetterman, D-Pa., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Peter Welch, D-Vt., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., in introducing the bill.

America’s tax code is riddled with loopholes that allow the ultra-wealthy to get away without paying their fair share, while working families have to play by a different set of rules and pay taxes out of each paycheck,” Wyden said. “You can only have a successful economy if you have a tax code that treats everyone fairly. My Billionaires Income Tax will make that a reality by ensuring those at the very top start paying their fair share, just like the rest of us.”

The Billionaires Income Tax Act would, for the first time, end one of the most prominent, legal ways that billionaires avoid paying taxes known as “buy, borrow, die.” Buy, borrow, die works as follows:

Buy: A billionaire uses their wealth to buy assets that appreciate in value (real estate, stocks, artwork, collectibles).

Borrow: The individual then borrows against that asset’s growing, untaxed value to fund their extravagant lifestyle, purchasing yachts, luxurious vacations, expensive art deals, and more. All the while, the assets continue to go up in value without paying a dime in tax.

Die: When the individual dies, their assets are passed to their children or other beneficiaries, often entirely tax-free, and the cycle continues.

The proposal would only apply to taxpayers with more than $1 billion in assets, or more than $100 million in income for three consecutive years. 

“Teachers and firefighters shouldn’t be paying higher tax rates than the ultra-wealthy.  It’s that simple,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Our legislation will level the playing field by closing tax loopholes to ensure the highest earners pay their fair share in taxes.”

“It’s common sense that billionaires should not pay lower tax rates than teachers, mechanics, and firefighters,” said Senator Stabenow. “The wealthy need to pay their fair share – plain and simple. And this legislation will help make it happen.”

“The wealthy hide their money in everything from stocks and real estate to yachts and expensive art – saddling the rest of us with the cost. This is a commonsense step to close one of the most exploited loopholes that the wealthy use to get out of paying their fair share,” said Senator Brown.

“For too long, billionaires have rigged the rules to cut their taxes to the bone, all while working families struggle to make ends meet. We should be investing in American families, not letting billionaires off the hook – and the Billionaires Income Tax takes an important step to make our tax system fairer,” said Senator Warren.

"Plain and simple, the system is rigged to benefit the ultra-rich and it’s time we level the playing field. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to finally make sure that billionaires at the top pay their fair share and bring some fairness to our tax system,” said Senator Baldwin.

“For too long, our country’s tax code has rewarded wealthy individuals, enabling them to get away with paying lower tax rates than working families,” said Senator Hirono. “The Billionaires Income Tax Act would close loopholes in the tax code to ensure billionaires pay their fair share in taxes, while raising hundreds of billions of dollars to fund critical programs like Social Security and Medicare.”

“It is unacceptable that the wealthiest people in this country have all sorts of loopholes and cutouts in our tax code, while working Americans play by a different set of rules,” said Senator Smith. “We need to level the playing field so that folks at the very top are treated the same as everyone else. This legislation will help close loopholes and create a more fair and equitable tax code so that those at the top finally start paying their fair share.”

“Billionaires have rigged our tax system so that many contribute virtually nothing,” said Senator Merkley. “This is fundamentally unfair, undermining the legitimacy of the entire tax system. This has to end. And this bill is the way to end it.”

“While millions of Americans pay taxes directly from their paycheck each month, billionaires are able to shield their wealth from taxation and pay a lower tax rate on their earnings and wealth than the typical, hardworking family.  Our bill ends this disparity and ensures that billionaires pay their share of taxes just like everyone else.  This is about restoring fairness to our tax code,” said Senator Reed.

“Billionaires have gotten away for far too long with paying next to nothing in taxes – all while their bottom lines have continued to go up. This bill would make sure they finally pay their fair share, just like working Americans have been doing all along,” said Senator Schatz.

The Billionaires Income Tax is also endorsed by over 100 supporting organizations. A letter of endorsement with the full list of supporting organizations can be found here.

Today’s introduction closely follows a series of investigations by Wyden and his staff on the Senate Finance Committee to shed light on the various ways that ultra-wealthy Americans legally avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Earlier this month, Wyden also chaired a hearing during which members heard a firsthand account of how billionaires exploit loopholes in the tax code to avoid paying tax. 

A one-page summary of the Billionaires Income Tax can be found here.

A section-by-section summary of the Billionaires Income Tax can be found here.

Legislative text can be found here.