Live Updates: After Report on Tax Payments of Richest Americans, Congress Rethinks the Code

“My intention as the author of the 2017 tax reform was not that multibillionaires ought to pay no taxes,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A jaw-dropping report by ProPublica detailing how America’s richest men avoided paying taxes has intensified interest in Congress, even among some Republicans, in changing the tax code to ensure that people like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett pay their fair share.

For Republicans, the idea that the tax code should give preferential treatment to investment has been sacrosanct, ostensibly to promote economic growth and innovation that could benefit everyone. But the news this week showed how the treatment of stocks, bonds, real estate and huge loans taken off those assets has sent the tax bills of the richest Americans plummeting.

“My intention as the author of the 2017 tax reform was not that multibillionaires ought to pay no taxes,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who helped write the law that slashed taxes by more than $1 trillion. “I believe dividends and capital gains should be taxed at a lower rate, but certainly not zero.”

Democrats, especially in the Senate, have been hard at work on a tax package to finance President Biden’s costly domestic agenda, including a major infrastructure plan, climate change measures and the expansion of education and health care benefits. Much of that work — vehemently opposed by Republicans — has been focused on clawing back tax cuts lavished on corporations by the 2017 tax law, President Donald J. Trump’s signature legislative achievement, and on preventing multinational corporations from shifting taxable profits offshore.

The ProPublica report, analyzing a trove of documents detailing the tax bills of household names such as Mr. Bezos, Mr. Buffett, Elon Musk and Michael Bloomberg, showed that the nation’s richest executives paid just a fraction of their wealth in taxes — $13.6 billion in federal income taxes during a time period when their collective net worth increased by $401 billion, according to a tabulation by Forbes.

“Americans knew that billionaires played these kinds of games,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said on Wednesday. “What was significant yesterday was it was all laid out in stark detail about the most affluent people in America.”

He said he was working on an array of proposals to get at the issue, possibly including a return to some kind of minimum tax, and would soon unveil specific proposals.

“Billionaires are going to have to pay their fair share, every year,” he said.

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Garland Defends D.O.J. Moves to Uphold Trump-Era Positions

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday said that the Justice Department’s moves to uphold Trump-era positions were consistent with the rule of law.

“Look, the job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present. Our job is to represent the American people, and our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law, which is the fundamental requirement of a democracy or a republic or a representative democracy. And the essence of the rule of law is what I said when I accepted the nomination for attorney general. It is that like cases be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes.” “Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy. But in every case, the job of the Justice Department is to make the best judgment it can as to what the law requires.”

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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday said that the Justice Department’s moves to uphold Trump-era positions were consistent with the rule of law.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland defended on Wednesday recent Justice Department moves upholding Trump-era positions on controversial cases, vowing to continue to adhere to the rule of law regardless of political pressure.

“The essence of the rule of law is what I said when I accepted the nomination for attorney general,” Mr. Garland said at a budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, adding that his goal was to ensure that there would “not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes.”

Mr. Garland continued: “It is not always easy to apply that rule. Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy.”

The Justice Department defended on Monday a legal position taken under the Trump administration in a case involving E. Jean Carroll, a writer who in 2019 publicly accused former President Donald J. Trump of sexually assaulting her 25 years earlier.

Mr. Trump denied the assault in an Oval Office interview and said that he could not have assaulted her because she was not his “type.” After Ms. Carroll sued him over the remarks, the Justice Department argued that Mr. Trump could not be held liable for defamation because he had made the statements as part of his official duties as president.

In the brief filed on Monday with a federal appeals court in New York, Mr. Garland’s Justice Department called Mr. Trump’s remarks “crude and disrespectful,” but said that his administration had correctly argued that he could not be sued over them.

Should the Justice Department prevail, Ms. Carroll’s lawsuit could be dismissed.

The appeal dismayed Democrats, as did another argument by the Justice Department in May when it sought to keep hidden a memo related to Mr. Barr’s determination that Mr. Trump had not illegally obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.

While the department released the first page and a half of the nine-page memo, it argued that the full document must remain out of view because it contained information that was part of the department’s decision-making process, and that such information could be lawfully kept secret.

Mr. Garland said that he was aware of the criticisms, but defended his actions.

“The job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present,” he said.

President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden arriving at Cornwall Airport Newquay on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

It was only two years ago, in the heat of the United States presidential election campaign, that President Biden called Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain a “physical and emotional clone” of President Donald J. Trump.

He did not mean it as a compliment.

But now, as the two stewards of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States prepare to meet face to face for the first time since Mr. Biden took office, they will stress the enduring strength of the alliance.

They are expected to emphasize a joint vision for a sustained global recovery from the pandemic and will evoke the two nations’ powerful shared history to drive home the point.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson are expected to announce what is being billed as a renewal of the Atlantic Charter — the declaration of post-war cooperation that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid out in 1941 during World War II.

Still, the fundamental issues that divide them remain.

Mr. Biden opposed Britain’s drive to leave the European Union, a push that Mr. Johnson helped lead. The American president is also concerned about Northern Ireland, since the Brexit deal has inflamed tensions and threatened to reignite sectarian tensions.

“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland,” the White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, referring to the 1998 accord that helped bring about peace in the territory, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson will meet on Thursday afternoon at Carbis Bay in Cornwall, before Friday’s meeting of the Group of 7 leading industrial nations.

It is the start of a whirlwind weeklong tour that includes meetings with Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday, NATO officials and European Union leaders next week, plus a summit with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Biden began his first overseas trip as president on Wednesday evening by telling United States troops in Britain that the world’s future depended on restoring the longstanding alliances with Europe that have been “hardened in the fire of war” and built by “generations of Americans.”

Speaking to troops at R.A.F. Mildenhall, he called his weeklong diplomatic overture “essential,” saying that no nation acting alone could meet the world’s challenges. But he also vowed to stand up to adversaries like China and Russia, pledging to tell Mr. Putin “what I want him to know.”

On the eve of meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.

Mr. Biden also cast his trip in broader terms as an effort to rally the United States and its allies in an existential struggle between democracy and autocracy.

“I believe we’re in an inflection point in world history,” Mr. Biden said, “a moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize enormous opportunities in the new age.”


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