Ocasio-Cortez Compares Herself to Lincoln, FDR as She Calls for 70 Percent Top Tax Rate

January 4, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) said in an interview Friday that her "radical" environmental plans could be accomplished if tax rates at the "tippy tops" were set at 70 percent.

The "60 Minutes" clip, which aired on CBS Friday morning, shows Cortez being questioned about her "Green New Deal" by Anderson Cooper. When Cooper got her to admit the goal of zero emissions within 12 years is "ambitious," he inquired further about the taxation necessary.

"What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?" Ocasio-Cortez asked. "People are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes."

Cooper asked for a specific on the tax rate, and Ocasio-Cortez said she was looking to the 1960’s for inspiration.

You look at our tax rates back in the '60’s, and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let’s say from $0-$75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, et cetera, but once you get to like the tippy tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn’t mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.

Ocasio-Cortez's argument is similar to that used by another self-declared socialist in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who has lauded the high tax rates in the middle of the 20th century when the U.S. economy grew rapidly. Economists have pointed out, however, that the effective tax rate then was actually closer to present levels, despite being 91 percent on paper.

"The average individual income tax rate in 1960 reached an average rate of 31 percent at the very top, only slightly above the 25 percent average rate at the very top in 2004," wrote economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez in 2007. "Within the 1960 version of the individual income tax, lower rates on realized capital gains, as well as deductions for interest payments and charitable contributions, reduced dramatically what otherwise looked like an extremely progressive tax schedule, with a top marginal tax rate on individual income of 91 percent."

Cooper pushed back on Ocasio-Cortez by noting how radical and seemingly impractical her plan for zero emissions and fossil fuels is. She embraced the "radical" descriptor and compared herself to wartime presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt

"I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country," she said. "Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on establishing programs like Social Security. That is radical."

"If that’s what radical means, call me a radical," she concluded.