President Joe Biden wants to end the preferential U.S. tax treatment of investment income that has benefited the nation's wealthy as he seeks to fund a sweeping new social-spending program. But he will need to overcome a major political hurdle in Congress to do so.
The White House plans to propose almost doubling the capital gains tax rate for those earning $1 million or more, to 39.6%, according to people familiar with the proposal. That wouldn't affect many. Only about 0.32% of American taxpayers reported adjusted gross income of more than $1 million and capital gains or losses on their returns, according to Internal Revenue Service tax return data from 2018.
The move would send the top federal rate on the appreciation in assets sold by the rich as high as 43.4% when including a surtax to help pay for Obamacare. And it would upend a century-old precedent of under-taxing investment relative to wages and salaries.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain emphasized in a tweet Friday that the proposal, which Mr. Biden "campaigned on extensively, changes the tax rate for less than 1% of Americans (in fact, less than 1/2 of 1% of Americans)."
Surging stock and property prices over the past year only strengthened the Biden team's determination to follow through on campaign pledges to demand higher taxes from the best-off. The president is betting the initiative will be popular enough to win passage in Congress, where he can't lose a single Democratic vote in the Senate and only a handful in the House, since Republicans are likely to be united in opposition.
Stocks dropped the most in more than a month on the news Thursday, with the S&P 500 Index closing down 0.9%, though trading Friday showed some stabilization. The index was up 0.3% as of 9:35 a.m. in New York.
"If a 1% fall in stock prices is all that you get from a really major increase in capital gains taxes that's not a big problem," Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman said. "Biden has an ambitious agenda" and to help pay for it, "some significant tax increases are going to be part of the story," he said.
Mr. Biden campaigned on equalizing the capital gains and income tax rates for wealthy individuals, saying it's unfair that many of them pay lower rates than middle-class workers.
The new marginal 39.6% rate would be an increase from the current base rate of 20%, the people said on the condition of anonymity because the plan is not yet public. A 3.8% tax on investment income that funds Obamacare would be kept in place, they added.