As Congress worked its way through major pieces of legislation on Wednesday, progressive groups in West Virginia called for closing tax loopholes and increasing tax rates on the richest Americans and ballooning corporations as a means to offset these potential investment costs.
Again performing atop the political high-wire in Washington D.C., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was pressed by the groups to use his “dead center” leverage to pass President Joe Biden’s reconciliation package.
Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said Manchin should rest assured that West Virginia voters will have his back if he votes for the $3.5 trillion bill, as long as he also closes the significant loopholes within the American tax system that would help pay for it.
A poll of 600 registered West Virginia voters found 48% support Biden’s reconciliation plan. After polled voters were given the option of raising taxes on the richest Americans and corporations, while closing the loopholes that have caused significant wealth disparities, support for the plan rose as high as 70%.
The poll was released Tuesday and was commissioned by Americans for Tax Fairness, a national nonprofit group composed of hundreds of American unions, think tanks, advocacy groups and small businesses. Phone calls to voters were made between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, with respondents being 37% Democrat, 36% Republican and 27% Independent or other affiliation, according to the poll. Thirty percent of respondents described themselves as “very conservative,” while 6% said they were “very liberal.”
The most popular provision among respondents — 70% — was closing the loophole that allows the wealthy to avoid paying taxes on investment gains. A one-time tax on billionaires on their uninvested profits received 65% support, and a wealth tax on Americans who earn more than $50 million in one year received 64% support, according to poll results.
“The public is really with the tax fairness issue,” said Frank Clemente, the group’s executive director. “This is a winning issue. It’s not a losing issue.”
Manchin has publicly stated he will not vote for a $3.5 trillion bill, but Clemente said the senator should stop looking at the price tag and start looking at how the money will be invested over the 10-year-period it’s scheduled for.
“There’s not been this level of investment proposed for decades” he said.
The bill creates investments in paid family medical leave, free child care, free community college, free pre-K education, continuing the new child tax credit, expanding the Affordable Care Act to the private insurance market and more.
“He’s putting in place some major safety net programs for the middle class, for working families, not just for low-income families,” Clemente said. “These are kind of historic things.”
Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said by email Wednesday that: “Senator Manchin has clearly outlined his concerns about spending an additional $3.5 trillion and dramatically expanding the federal government while inflation is rising in the middle of a pandemic, but he’s not walking away. He continues to work in good faith to find a path forward to pass the historic bipartisan infrastructure bill and target support to those who need it most.”
The groups also pushed for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to support a fairer tax system and support Biden’s reonciliation bill. Capito and Senate Republicans have held steadfast opposition to Biden’s plan, citing inflation and what they’ve said is spending on unnecessary social infrastructure.
Capito late Wednesday cited federal Joint Committee on Taxation findings showing some Americans making under $400,000 would pay higher taxes in 2023. An analysis measuring annual income found 35% of people who make between $100,000 and $200,000 will see higher tax rates within two years. For people who make between $75,000 and $100,000, the plan is estimated to affect 18% of people. Less than 10% of people would pay higher taxes if the bill is passed into law, the analysis found.
She said the bill will ultimately affect wages and earnings for West Virginians.
“My position remains the same: I oppose the Democrats reckless tax and spending spree legislation that would not only burden our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt and fuel inflation, but would also harm hardworking families and small business owners here in West Virginia,” Capito said.
Clemente cited one report from his group detailing the overall wealth of billionaires, which grew 62%, or $1.8 trillion, in the first 17 months of the pandemic. The richest 1% of households saw their net worth rise by $4 trillion in 2020, meaning they captured about 35% of the extra wealth generated nationwide, according to the Federal Reserve.
He said these statistics alone — that while hundreds of millions of Americans suffered, a handful of people grew exponentially richer off their economic hardships — should push Manchin to support these tax provisions.
Ryan Frankenberry, state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, said the poll results show West Virginians are ready for the generational change this reconciliation bill would create if Manchin and Congress beef up the tax system in concurrence. He said Manchin voted against the 2017 Republican tax cuts that helped widen these disparities, so now it’s on him to help close the gap.
“This is how we save West Virginia, by investing in the people that are still here,” Frankenberry said.
“Senator Manchin has expressed reservations about the price tag because of concerns over rising debt and inflation,” said Zuckett. “But both problems can be avoided if the package is paid for with the kind of higher taxes on the rich and corporations [that] this poll shows West Virginia voters — all along the political spectrum — strongly support.”
Democrats control both chambers in Congress and the presidency, but Manchin’s pause in this moment may tank Biden’s first-year agenda, Zuckett said.
“If we take a pass on this, who knows when we’ll get this chance again,” he said.
Frankenberry said it’s on Manchin to listen to his voters and pass popular policy.
“If this legislation doesn’t pass, people are going to continue to suffer, and in ways that can completely be eradicated,” he said.
As opposed to the 2017 tax cuts, where wealthy investors directed their new profits back into their own stock portfolios and not to their employees’ wages, Clemente said, Manchin can come back to West Virginia and champion the reconciliation bill if he also helps create a fairer tax system.
“If he supports a plan that’s going to bring tens of billions of dollars to West Virginia to create jobs, improve the education system, improve people’s health care, make healthcare more affordable, make housing more affordable — so as long as it’s paid for, the voters of West Virginia are gonna be very supportive,” he said.
Most common in voters’ support of a new tax system, Clemente said, is the belief that this system should represent a shared value of fairness.
“It’s in their gut.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.