Skip to main content
Listen to Acton content on the go by downloading the Radio Free Acton podcast! Listen Now

Transatlantic Blog

Fact check: 5 facts about the fifth Democratic debate of 2019

The Democratic Party narrowed the number of presidential hopefuls to 10 at the fifth debate, held Wednesday in Atlanta. Several of their statements deserve greater scrutiny.

1. Elizabeth Warren: Freeloading billionaires?

The 99 percent in America are on track to pay about 7.2 percent of their total wealth in taxes. The top one-tenth of one percent that I want to say, “Pay two cents more,” they'll pay 3.2 percent in America. I'm tired of freeloading billionaires. I think it's time that we ask those at the very top to pay more.

America's wealthiest citizens already provide the lion's share of the revenue collected under our progressive income tax system. While figures for billionaires are not available, the top one percent of income earners paid 37 percent of all U.S. income taxes in 2016. “In 2016, the top 1 percent of taxpayers accounted for more income taxes paid than the bottom 90 percent combined,” according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. A total of 44.4 percent of Americans (76.4 million) will pay no income tax at all, according to the moderate Tax Policy Center. That's 3.8 million more people stricken from the tax rolls since the passage of President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Senator Warren opposed.

2. Kamala Harris steps in the gender pay gap

[W]omen are not paid equal for equal work in America. We passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but fast forward to the year of our lord 2019, and women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, black women 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents, Latinas 53 cents.

The amount of pay a worker receives depends on numerous factors, including his or her profession, the number of hours worked, and whether that work history is interrupted by a significant amount of leave.

The Pew Research Center found that the average working-age man spends 9.9 more hours a week in paid work than the average working-age woman. (The average woman spends exactly 9.9 more hours a week in non-remunerative housework and childcare.)

However, single women in their twenties make an average of $1.08 – and as much as $1.20 – for every dollar earned by a man of the same age, according to an analysis performed by James Chung of Reach Advisors. This is largely due to an educational disparity that tilts in women's favor. “There were 134 women graduating from college that year for every 100 men,” writes Mark J. Perry of AEI. This reflects “a whopping 25.6% gender college degree gap for men.” (Emphasis in original.)

The pay difference hinges on the kind of remuneration women prefer. Multiple surveys show that women place a higher premium on flexibility than the raw amount of pay. Up to 40 percent of women would take a pay cut in exchange for workplace accommodations that produce a greater work-life balance. This is true internationally, as women from Australia to Denmark cite flexibility as their greatest consideration.

If women prefer to ask employers for less quantifiable forms of remuneration, why should Kamala Harris object?

3. Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax 1: Cost

I have proposed a two cent wealth tax. That is a tax for everybody who has more than $50 billion in assets, your first $50 billion is free and clear. But your 50 billionth and first dollar, you've got to pitch in 2 cents. And when you hit a billion dollars, you've got to pinch in a few pennies more.

Senator Warren prides herself on having a plan for everything; indeed, she has so many plans that she appears to have forgotten some of them. Under Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, the so-called “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” that she released in January, she would impose a tax of two percent on any individual who has an estimated wealth (not income) of $50 million, or three percent for those with net assets of more than $1 billion.

However, she proposed a separate three percent wealth tax on billionaires as part of her “Medicare for All” plan. Combined with some of her other tax proposals, this could raise rates on some Americans to more than 100 percent of their income. Saying this is “a few pennies” substantially understates how punitive her tax proposals would be.

4. Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax math 2: Revenue

Let me just tell you what we can do with that two cent wealth tax. … We can provide universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America. We can stop exploiting the women, largely black and brown women, who do this work. And we can raise the wages of every childcare worker and pre-schoolteacher in America. … We can put $800 billion new federal dollars into all of our public schools. We can make college tuition-free for every kid. We can put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities. And we can cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the folks who've got it. Two cent wealth tax and we can invest in an entire generation's future.

The estimated cost of Warren's policy proposals vary from $2.9 trillion (New York Times) to $7 trillion over 10 years, not counting “Medicare for All” (PolitiFact). The authors of her wealth tax, Berkeley professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, estimate it will raise $2.75 trillion during that time. However, even left-leaning economists say their forecast misses the mark.

Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, called their revenue projections “substantially inaccurate and substantially misleading … not within a country mile – either in toto or on a category-by-category basis.” Using “maximally optimistic” estimates, Summers found the wealth tax would raise 40 percent of the revenue estimated by Warren.

Summers also notes that the proposal raises “family unit issues,” encouraging married couples to put asunder that which God hath joined together. “If a couple files separately or gets divorced, do they get two $50 million exemptions?” he asked.

5. Joe Biden, most Democrats don't support “Medicare for All”

In an exchange with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden responded, “The fact is that right now the vast majority of Democrats do not support Medicare for All.”

A poll released the day of the debate by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 77 percent of Democrats support “Medicare for All.” Similarly a Politico/Morning Consult poll in August found that 65 percent of Democratic voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports “a Medicare-for-all health system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from the government, over preserving and improving the Affordable Care Act.” However, the KFF Health Tracking poll revealed that even more Democrats (88 percent) favor a public option that would “compete” with the private sector. That is consistent with a Marist poll that finds two-thirds of Democrats favor “Medicare for All” but 90 percent back a public option. (The same poll shows that 60 percent of Democrats support “a national health insurance program for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.”)

Bonus 1: Andrew Yang puts Joe Biden's record on repeat

Studies have shown that two-thirds of our kids' educational outcomes are determined by what's happening to them at home. This is stress levels, number of words read to them as children, type of neighborhood, whether a parent has time to spend with them.

In the third Democratic primary debate in September, Joe Biden stated, “A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get” to school. The original study involved only 42 families and, as another study this summer noted, “These findings have never been replicated.” Further, Education Week reported that the study found “[s]ome children from lower-income families even had an advantage when [additional] factors were taken into account.”

Bonus 2: Bernie Sanders again misstates the number of homeless Americans

During the debate, Sen. Sanders said, “You've got 500,000 people sleeping out on the street.”

Sanders has misstated this figure at the fourth Democratic debate; we set the record straight at the time. (For more facts on homelessness in America, see this article.)

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Most Read


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.