With all due respect to LU’s Ben Bowles, Joe Biden’s ridiculous pledge “I give you my word as a Biden,” which he made in his July 4 address, is nothing new. He made the same meaningless promise throughout his presidential campaign, tweeting on March 18, 2020, “I give you my word as a Biden: When I’m president, I will lead with science, listen to the experts and heed their advice, and always tell you the truth.”
His first utterance of the words came eight days earlier, when he said, “I give you my word as a Biden: If I am elected president, I will do everything in my power to protect our children from gun violence.”
But the occasion when he invoked his pledge that is most likely to come back and bite him was on October 30, was at a voter mobilization event in Tampa, where he said, “I guarantee you, my word as a Biden, no one making less than $400,000 will pay a single penny more in taxes.” Watch:
He has repeated the promise numerous times, sometimes without the oath. The funniest, however, came in May of this year, when he told an audience in Virginia that people making less than $400,000 “will not pay a single penny in taxes.” Notice the critical omission.
But the true test of his word as Biden is yet to come. As Leonard E. Burman, a fellow of the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution, wrote in March:
Enacting good tax policy is hard under the best of circumstances. President Biden made it immeasurably harder, if not impossible, by promising to spare everyone earning less than $400,000 — more than 95 percent of Americans — from any tax increases. By placing almost three-quarters of the income tax base off limits, the pledge could hamstring the President’s ambitious domestic agenda. Drawing any red lines about future tax changes is a terrible idea, whether it is Republicans promising no new taxes on anyone ever or Democrats vowing not to raise taxes on those making less than some arbitrary amount.
Biden’s tax pledge makes substantial deficit reduction nearly impossible. It will make it much harder for Congress to raise revenue to pay for his infrastructure plan. Already it seems to have eliminated consideration of a gas tax hike — the rare tax increase that has some bipartisan backing — because, yes, people making less than $400,000 would pay more at the pump.
The pledge will make it difficult to make the tax code simpler. New revenue proposals would be needlessly complicated to spare anyone under $400,000 from new tax liability, and the threshold would create counterproductive incentives for taxpayers to keep their incomes below the bar.
It rules out revenue-neutral tax reform. There is no way to replace our hodgepodge of complex, inequitable, and inefficient tax preferences with a fairer, simpler, streamlined tax system without some lower-income households paying more tax. It is algebraically impossible to replace an irrational tax system with a rational one that raises the same amount of money without raising taxes on many households. Some — and probably many — would have incomes under $400,000.