Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted Sunday about Jeff Bezos’s recent space flight, saying that if he can afford to go to space he can afford to pay more in taxes.
“The richest guy on Earth can launch himself into space while over half the country lives paycheck to paycheck, nearly 43 million are saddled with student debt, and child care costs force millions out of work,” Warren tweeted. “He can afford to pitch in so everyone else gets a chance.”
Jeff Bezos, the founder and former CEO of Amazon, paid $0 in federal income taxes for at least two years between 2006 and 2018, ProPublica reported in June. The bombshell report also revealed Tesla CEO Elon Musk did the same thing in 2018.
Warren had also taken a jab at Bezos over the flight last week, writing on Twitter: “Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing.”
Celebrity pastor and author Joel Osteen is drawing ire online over a Ferrari. Twitter users are up in arms over the car’s hefty price tag, which some claim is a whopping $325,000 (Osteen reportedly owns a Ferrari 458 Italia, according to the Houston Chronicle).
It also ignited debate over the summer’s hottest topic: taxes. Following the Ferrari incident, #TaxTheChurches started trending, alongside claims that Osteen does not pay taxes. Turns out, these claims probably aren’t exactly true.
“Joel Osteen pays lots and lots of taxes because his book sells,” Ryan Burge, a pastor and an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, told Insider.
Osteen, one of the country’s most famous pastors due to his wide-reaching broadcasts, books, and celebrity worshippers, hasn’t taken a salary from the Lakewood Church since 2005, according to the Houston Chronicle. Instead, royalties from his cadre of bestselling books likely pay for his lavish car and home, and experts told Insider that he likely pays taxes on them.
Rumors of his failure to pay taxes are likely conflated with the fact that his church – which reportedly can bring in upwards of $80 million in donations and has had $90 million in operating expenses – is largely exempt from paying taxes. The hullabaloo over Osteen’s car is another example of backlash, amidst historic inequality in the US, against the ultra-wealthy pastor, who is one of the most famous figures associated with “prosperity gospel” or the idea that financial success is the result of faith in God.
Joel Osteen Ministries did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Osteen makes a lot of money off books, and probably pays taxes on that income
The annual salary for Osteen’s role would be $200,000, according to the Indy Star, but he hasn’t drawn that in over a decade.
Osteen’s larger-than-life lifestyle is likely propped up by speaking engagements and royalties from his books, the first of which came out in 2004 and sold more than 8 million copies, according to Publisher’s Weekly. The Christian Post reported that the multi-million dollar deal for his second book was greater than the $8.5 million Pope John Paul II got.
In addition to his Ferrari, Osteen owns a $12 million home according to an extensive profile in the Houston Chronicle. He and his wife reportedly paid $247,000 in property taxes in 2017.
Churches pay little in taxes in the US
Churches like Texas’s Lakewood Church are largely tax exempt with the exception of paying payroll and social security taxes to their staff, according to Burge.
Jared Walczak, the vice president of State Projects at the Tax Foundation, said that clergy do pay taxes on their income. The only tax benefit open to clergy that most other people can’t take advantage of is a “parsonage allowance” – essentially a housing allowance.
“It is possible to exclude a certain amount from gross income if it is structured as either providing a parsonage for a pastor or providing an allowance for housing for a primary minister,” Walczak said. But he noted that that generally benefits ministers at smaller churches. According to the Chronicle, Osteen’s home is not designated as a parsonage.
The outcry over Osteen’s fortune is part of increased pressure on the wealthy to address widening gaps
While Osteen is probably paying taxes, the outrage over wealth inequality and unfair taxation comes during a moment of reckoning.
The pandemic revealed – and, in many cases, worsened – the gaps between the wealthiest and poorest members of American society. While millions of Americans lost their jobs (and, in some cases, the unemployment benefits keeping them afloat), it was revealed that the wealthiest taxpayers had been hiding billions from the IRS.
Osteen’s church saw its own finger-pointing amidst the debate over who, or what, merited government subsidies when it came under fire for receiving a $4.4 million loan from the Paycheck Protection Plan. The news inspired backlash, especially amidst Osteen’s accumulation of personal wealth and the church’s operating budget and donation apparatus.
In a statement to media outlets, David Iloff, a spokesperson for the church, said that the church hadn’t applied for assistance at first, but eventually sought it out as pandemic-induced closures dragged on. Iloff said that the church was able to pay out salaries and health benefits to employees with the loan.
Walczak points out that service organizations like religious institutions or nonprofits are often obvious targets of anger over “ostentatious wealth.”
“You will always have individuals, whether they are ministers or leaders of other organizations who attract negative attention for this, and that’s unsurprising. But that doesn’t mean that there is a tax issue.”
Billionaires aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, and the banks and wealth managers enabling them should be investigated, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said in an open letter on Wednesday.
Warren and Whitehouse wrote to Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate’s finance committee, after ProPublica obtained the tax records of many ultra-wealthy Americans and published some of its findings.
The lawmakers highlighted the non-profit journalism outlet’s “deeply troubling allegations” that billionaires have borrowed huge sums against their companies’ stock to fund their lavish lifestyles, then deducted the interest on those loans from their taxable income, meaning they’ve paid zero federal income tax in some years. Borrowing also spares them from having to sell stock and incur capital-gains taxes.
The senators called out Warren Buffett, the famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO, for paying taxes equivalent to less than 0.1% of the $24 billion increase in his wealth in 2018. They also noted that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claimed a $4,000 child tax credit and reported a loss on his tax return in 2011, when he was worth $18 billion.
“This tax avoidance by the nation’s wealthiest individuals is profoundly unfair,” Warren and Whitehouse wrote. The pair argued that billionaires shortchanging the government prevents it from investing in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and the environment. It also exacerbates inequality, distorts the US economy, and results in an unfair tax burden for low-income and middle-class families, they added.
While the vast majority of the ultra-wealthy’s tax practices are legal, they allow those individuals to “reap billions from their investments and live lives of privilege that are beyond the imagination of most families,” the lawmakers said.
Warren and Whitehouse called on Wyden and his committee to investigate the matter, hold hearings, and craft new laws to prevent tax avoidance. In particular, the pair urged them to investigate the large financial institutions that provide large, cheap, stock-backed loans to the super rich, letting them live on borrowed money instead of taxable income.
While the senators singled out Buffett, there’s no indication the investor borrows money to fund his relatively modest lifestyle, or has ever paid zero federal income tax. ProPublica said the billionaire minimizes his tax bill by not paying a dividend and keeping his wealth in Berkshire stock. Yet his shareholders have overwhelmingly voted against a dividend, and long-term stock ownership is a key element of Buffett’s investing philosophy.
Moreover, Buffett has called for higher taxes on the wealthy, and recently reached the halfway point in his goal of gifting 99% of his fortune to good causes.
Senate Republicans are mostly keeping their cards close to the vest when it comes to the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his support behind the package yet, even though it was negotiated by a handful of Senate Republicans that included Mitt Romney if Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. The framework is concentrated on physical items like roads and bridges. It also contains funding for broadband internet, a major priority for both parties.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans to back the agreement yet, which could partly stem from the fact that negotiators are still turning the blueprint into a formal bill. Democrats are pressing to finalize the details this week, but Republicans say a bill won’t be ready until next week.
A total of 11 GOP senators signed onto the bipartisan agreement, which would be enough for the plan to clear the 60-vote threshold if every Democratic senator voted for it as well.
But some have signaled they could withdraw their support given that Democrats are poised to advance a separate $3.5 trillion party-line package through reconciliation in the coming weeks. That legislative pathway requires Democrats to stick together in an evenly-divided Senate over united Republican opposition – and both measures would be approved on parallel tracks.
‘This deal is troublesome to me,” said Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a GOP sponsor, on Wednesday.
Others say they don’t want the bipartisan deal’s fate to be tied to the Democrat-only plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House will only approve a bipartisan bill once the Senate clears a party-line infrastructure bill. “They certainly can’t be connected,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, another Republican sponsor, told reporters on Wednesday.
Republicans have also started criticizing the funding mechanisms, potentially making it harder for more Republicans to support an agreement.
Some experts are skeptical that the funding provisions of the bipartisan deal – which include repurposing coronavirus relief funds and unspent federal unemployment aid – will fully pay for itself. Howard Gleckman, a tax expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called it “pixie dust” in a recent blog post.
The GOP is seizing on that given their opposition to growing the national debt. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in a Tuesday interview that Republicans want “just to make sure the pay-fors are responsible, actually real and not illusory,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that a plan that’s fully paid for would be a “prerequisite for a lot of Republicans to support it.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders indicated that he would oppose a Democrat-only spending bill if its price tag didn’t top $3 trillion, brushing anything lower as too meager. It may set the stage for a confrontation between Sanders and moderate Democrats looking to restrain the size of a follow-up package.
In an interview with New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd published Saturday, the Vermont senator ruled out backing a party-line infrastructure plan that amounted to either $2 trillion or $3 trillion.
“That’s much too low,” he told Dowd. He also pulled out a list of his priorities for a reconciliation package.
They appeared to include broadband, climate, childcare, universal pre-K, paid family and medical leave, Medicare expansion and housing among others.
“Does anyone deny that our child care system, for example, is a disaster?” Sanders told Dowd. “Does anyone deny that pre-K, similarly, is totally inadequate? Does anyone deny that there’s something absurd that our young people can’t afford to go to college or are leaving school deeply in debt? Does anybody deny that our physical infrastructure is collapsing?”
Sanders’s remarks could potentially set up a showdown with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as Democrats move ahead with a reconciliation spending package. Reconciliation is a legislative tactic Democrats are poised to use and circumvent Republicans because only a simple majority is needed for certain bills.
The party holds a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate that relies on a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. Every Senate Democrat must be onboard as a result or else the package fails.
Manchin has made clear he favors a party-line package that’s fully paid for with tax increases and doesn’t grow the national debt. He previously suggested a $2 trillion price tag.
“I’ve agreed that can be done. I just haven’t agreed on the amount,” he told MSNBC late last month. “I haven’t seen everything that everybody is wanting to put into the bill.”
As chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders wields enormous influence over reconciliation since the panel helps set overall spending levels. Senate Democrats are weighing up to $6 trillion in spending aimed at overhauling the economy with new initiatives in childcare, higher education, monthly cash payments to families, and clean energy programs.
Manchin along with a few other Senate Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia have already balked at supporting $6 trillion in spending, making cuts likely.
President Joe Biden has already struck a $1 trillion infrastructure agreement with a centrist group of lawmakers concentrated on roads, bridges, and highways. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dug in on not passing the plan until the Senate also approves a separate reconciliation package containing measures unlikely to draw Republican support.
It’s unclear whether it will ultimately pass, given Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his support behind it yet. For now, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Democrats to gear up for potentially long days ahead to kick off the reconciliation process before the August recess next month.
“Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do,” Schumer wrote Friday in a letter to Senate Democrats. “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period.”
Uber and Lyft could be avoiding a combined $153 million in taxes every year in Canada, according to a new report from the nonprofit Canadians for Tax Fairness (C4TF).
The report estimated Uber and Lyft avoid $53.9 million in corporate taxes as well as $81.3 million in unemployment insurance and benefits taxes by taking advantage of lax financial disclosure requirements around corporate taxes, in addition to classifying drivers as contractors.
While not illegal, the tactics let Uber and Lyft benefit from taxpayer-funded programs like roads, pensions, and unemployment insurance, despite paying very little into those programs, C4TF argued.
“Uber and Lyft both depend to a huge degree on publicly funded infrastructure to make their revenues, but they provide very little of the funding for that infrastructure because they pay next to nothing in taxes,” DT Cochrane, the report’s author and a policy researcher at C4TF, told Insider.
While the lack of transparency around corporate taxes makes it impossible to know exactly how much the companies paid, he added: “it’s doubtful that it approaches the level that we think that it should.”
Uber and Lyft told Insider they disputed the report’s findings, and said they have paid all taxes required by Canadian law.
“Uber contributes millions of dollars in the form of ridesharing fees, which help local and provincial governments pay for ridesharing, transit, and other initiatives,” an Uber Canada spokesperson told Insider.
“We file all of our taxes in Canada, including federal and provincial corporate income tax, payroll taxes, GST/HST, QST and applicable provincial sales tax,” a Lyft spokesperson told Insider, adding that the company “is in good standing with the Canadian tax authorities.”
But C4TF’s report cited several ways it says Uber and Lyft may have been able to significantly cut their tax bills.
First, C4TF estimated the companies brought in $203 million in combined profit in Canada in 2019, which should amount to $53.9 million in federal and provincial corporate taxes. Neither company discloses how much they pay in Canadian corporate taxes, but according to C4TF, using Uber’s global average effective tax rate of 1.9%, Uber and Lyft would have paid roughly $8.6 million.
Multinational corporations have come under increasing scrutiny for attempting to lower their global tax bills by routing profits through low-tax countries. An Australian research group accused Uber of using Dutch shell companies to turn $5.8 billion in global revenue into $4.8 billion in losses on paper, allegedly sidestepping millions of dollars in taxes.
Until recently, Uber’s Canada subsidiary was owned by its Dutch subsidiary, which C4TF claimed may have let it avoid Canadian taxes as well by booking Canadian revenue in the Netherlands where corporate taxes are lower (Uber claimed it had discussed plans to spin off its Canadian subsidiary as early as 2018).
In response, C4TF argued Canadian authorities should require more transparency from companies like Uber and Lyft to ensure they are paying their full tax bill.
C4TF’s report also estimated Uber and Lyft avoid $81.3 million in unemployment insurance and pension taxes by classifying drivers as contractors – a growing source of legal and political headaches for the companies in the US, the UK, Spain, and other countries. In a ruling last year, Canada’s Supreme Court opened the door for a class-action lawsuit that could chip away at the companies’ ability to classify drivers there as contractors.
Lyft’s spokesperson told Insider the Canadian government “recognizes drivers on Lyft as independent contractors and assigns taxes accordingly.”
One such tax includes Canada’s sales taxes. Because Canadian law requires individual contractors to collect and pay sales tax (except in Quebec, where the contracting company is responsible), C4TF argued Uber and Lyft drivers are unfairly shouldering those costs.
C4TF also claimed that because Uber and Lyft don’t withhold those sales taxes – an estimated $217 million per year – from drivers’ earnings upfront, they’re overstating how much drivers are really making.
Cochrane told Insider the report was also a critique of Canadian authorities that do not hold companies accountable for paying their fair share.
“We don’t know exactly what [Uber and Lyft’s] bookings are, what their revenue is, what their take rate is, what their profit margin might be, what their taxes paid are simply because the Canadian government is falling behind on requiring greater corporate transparency,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding firm on her commitment to not approve a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure agreement until a party-line package reaches the lower chamber.
“The statement that I made as such is the statement I stand by,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference, adding that House Democrats are “very pleased” with the bipartisan deal struck between President Joe Biden and a group of centrist Senate Democrats and Republicans.
“What I said last week and I reiterate now is that in the House of Representatives, that particular version … is something that we’ll take up once we see what the budget parameters are,” she said.
Pelosi was turning down Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s demand to uncouple a bipartisan agreement that would pump money into roads, highways, and broadband from a Democratic-only spending plan. That follow-up package is poised to contain initiatives many Democrats favor, like paid leave and tuition-free community college.
Last week, Pelosi said House Democrats would not take up a bipartisan agreement unless the Senate clears a party-line package. Biden initially made the same commitment, but reversed himself after that triggered an uproar among Republicans.
House Democrats are starting to assemble an infrastructure package that will move through reconciliation, a laborious legislative path for certain budgetary bills. A reconciliation package can clear the Senate with only a simple majority of 51 votes, meaning every Democratic Senator must commit to it.
They’re also poised to approve a $715 billion surface transportation and water infrastructure bill on Thursday, which will likely serve as the starting point for House Democrats in negotiations with their Senate counterparts.
Politico Playbook reported on Wednesday that Biden won’t seek to renegotiate elements he’s already agreed on with the GOP, citing a White House official. Last week, as he touted the bipartisan agreement, the president said he wouldn’t attempt to add more Amtrak funding in a party-line spending package.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday “we have a deal” in reference to a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, but major chunks of the Republican Party were icy about its prospects on Friday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham was perhaps among the most aggressive lawmakers denouncing it. On Friday, Politico reported that the South Carolina Republican would not back the plan. “No deal by extortion!” he tweeted.
The stumbling block is that Biden tied the deal’s final passage to a separate party-line bill that’s poised to contain many Democratic social priorities on education, healthcare, and childcare.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday, referring to the bipartisan package.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy seized on exactly those remarks on Friday to explain his opposition. “It’s one big deal. It’s not separated,” the California Republican said. “I just don’t see any Republican supporting that structure.”
Key Senate Republicans also signaled their opposition. Sen. Jerry Moran, one of the 10 Republicans who signed onto the deal with Biden, showed signs of wavering on the framework given the president’s commitment to secure approval of a separate reconciliation bill, Bloomberg reported.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, another of the Republican negotiators, told reporters on Thursday he was “a little blindsided” by Biden’s pledge to only approve the bipartisan plan only if a party-line package reached his desk.
Other Republicans who forged the deal, like Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio or Susan Collins of Maine, have refrained from commenting publicly so far. But there are signs that the GOP could ultimately ditch the plan.
“I can’t imagine Senate Republicans agreeing to a deal that Democrats are going to rip up before the ink is dry,” Brian Riedl, a former Portman aide, told Insider.
“It seems like the momentum in the Republican caucus is to abandon this deal,” said Riedl, now a budget expert at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute. “The fact they feel lied to and misled by the president gives them a pretty clear justification for pulling out. This isn’t a matter of ‘we got cold feet and changed our minds,’ it’s that the president changed the deal after we got an agreement.”
The $1 trillion infrastructure deal was focused on physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, broadband, and water projects. But it omitted many Democratic priorities like tax hikes on corporations and in-home elder care.
Still, some Republicans had floated striking a bipartisan deal in a bid to kill a Democrat-only package. “I think a value that could come from this is the reduced pressure of justification that Democrats may feel,” Moran said earlier this month. “If we do nothing, those that want to change the rules or use reconciliation have a stronger case to make.”
Some other Republicans may be responding to a separate Lindsey Graham quote, summing up his feelings about how the negotiations with Biden turned out: “Most Republicans could not have known” that Biden would tie the two bills together, Graham told Politico. “There’s no way. You look like a f—ing idiot now.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is poised to play a critical role in President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.
The influential Democratic centrist nearly derailed passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package when he pressed for a last-minute cut to federal unemployment benefits. It sent Democrats scrambling to secure his support for 12 hours – they eventually agreed to a reduction.
With Democrats essentially needing to pass major legislation via reconciliation – which requires all 50 members of the parties to vote in favor – Manchin remains the swing vote on infrastructure.
Manchin now holds major sway in ongoing bipartisan infrastructure negotiations. He’s pushing both parties to strike a deal over the objection of fellow Democrats and progressives who view the talks as alternately a waste of time or something that could produce a significantly watered-down bill.
On Tuesday, Manchin opened the door to a Democrat-only package. He’s largely held back from offering policy specifics, but here’s an overview of what Manchin seeks from a new economic spending bill:
On Tuesday, Manchin offered some of his clearest rationale yet behind why he wants to raise corporate taxes in an interview with NBC News:
“Republicans have drawn a line in the sand on not changing anything, and I thought the 2017 tax bill was a very unfair bill, and weighted to a side that basically did not benefit the average American. So I voted against it. I think there are some adjustments that need to be made.”
Manchin chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which The Hill first reported is slated to mark up a 423-page legislative draft aimed at strengthening the nation’s energy infrastructure on Thursday. It contains provisions to boost electric grid resiliency as well as the energy efficiency of housing and commercial buildings.
It remains unclear how much of Biden’s education, healthcare, and childcare initiatives Manchin will ultimately embrace. His office declined to comment earlier this month on whether the West Virginia senator supported the permanent expansion of the child tax credit.
But the Democrats’ pivotal swing vote looks like he may be ready to make a deal.
Warren Buffett donated $4.1 billion of Berkshire Hathaway stock to good causes on Wednesday, he said in a statement. The famed investor has now given away 50% of his Berkshire “A” shares, which account for more than 99% of his net worth.
The Berkshire CEO still owns close to 239,000 “A” shares, down from nearly 475,000 in 2006, when he pledged to donate virtually all of his money to charity and began distributing stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four other foundations each year. His remaining shares are worth about $100 billion.
Buffett reflected on his wealth amd his philanthropy in the statement marking his giving milestone. He also revealed he was resigning as a trustee of the Gates Foundation, weeks after its founders, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, announced they were divorcing.
The investor said that giving away excess money is the “easiest deed in the world,” but argued that distributing billions of dollars is trickier, especially when the goal is tackling complex problems such as cyberterrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Buffett also framed his massive fortune as a product of his passion for investing, and said he doesn’t need the money.
“Over many decades I have accumulated an almost incomprehensible sum simply by doing what I love to do,” he said. “I’ve made no sacrifice nor has my family. Compound interest, a long runway, wonderful associates and our incredible country have simply worked their magic. Society has a use for my money; I don’t.”
The 90-year-old hastily added that “these remarks are no swan song” and he’s not quitting Berkshire yet. “I still relish being on the field and carrying the ball,” he said. “But I’m clearly playing in a game that, for me, has moved past the fourth quarter into overtime.”
Buffett tipped his hat to people who donate their time and effort to helping others with minimal recognition, describing them as “heroes of philanthropy” and their work as “much more admirable” than giving money.
He gave the example of his late sister, Doris, who took charge of fielding the thousands of letters seeking help from Buffett each year. He labeled her efforts at the Letters Foundation as “retail” philanthropy, in contrast to his “wholesale” approach of trusting others to deploy his money.
The Berkshire chief also touched on his taxes, days after ProPublica reported that he and other billionaires pay minimal federal income tax relative to their wealth. Buffett emphasized that he’s only enjoyed about 40 cents of tax savings for every $1,000 he’s given to charity, and explained why he pays very little income tax and how his fortune is being put to work.
“I have relatively little income,” he said. “My wealth remains almost entirely deployed in tax-paying businesses that I own through my Berkshire stock-holdings, and Berkshire regularly reinvests earnings to further grow its output, employment and earnings.”
Buffett also expressed support for Congress adjusting tax policy for charitable contributions, especially for donors who get “imaginative” with their deductions.
Moreover, the Berkshire chief explained why he waited so long to give his money away. He was “charmed by the results of compounding” and had “the desire to retain unassailable control of Berkshire,” he said.
Finally, the investor offered a piece of advice to super-wealthy people on how much money to give the next generation: “Leave the children enough so that they can do anything, but not enough that they can do nothing.”