Billionaire CEO Compares Democrats' Plan to Tax Ultra-Rich to Something 'Putin Would Do'

The proposed tax against billionaires meant to help pay for the Biden administration's domestic spending package is drawing strong criticism from America's select population of ultra-rich, the Associated Press reported. One of the plan's critics is John Catsimatidis, a billionaire grocery chain and real estate mogul who described the Democrats' plan as something you would "expect Putin to do."

Sen. Ron Wyden unveiled the tax proposal Wednesday, which would only apply to people with $1 billion or more in assets or people who made $100 million or more for three straight years. Less than 800 people would likely be subject to its terms, and it would tax tradable assets even when they haven't been sold.

Catsimatidis said that the Democrats' plan is "a little bit insane."

"Stop spending the money stupidly. They come up with budgets that are stupid budgets, and they want to make everybody else suffers for it," he told the AP.

Catsimatidis said that while America needs infrastructure, it doesn't need "bridges to nowhere." He added that billionaires, "the people that create the jobs," are able to "get up and go somewhere else."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Grocery Mogul Decries Billionaire Tax
John Catsimatidis, a billionaire grocery chain and real estate mogul, described the Democrats’ plan for a billionaire tax as something you would “expect Putin to do.” Catsimatidis speaks at a news conference at the Women's Republican Club on September 16, 2020, in New York. Kathy Willens/AP Photo

With a personal fortune that is flirting with $300 billion, Tesla CEO Elon Musk — the richest person on Earth — has been attacking a Democratic proposal to tax the assets of billionaires like him.

The idea behind the Democratic plan is to use revenue from a billionaires tax to help pay for a domestic policy package being negotiated in Congress that would, among other things, help combat climate change, provide universal prekindergarten and expand health care programs.

Musk, who recently blew past Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the world No. 1 in wealth thanks to Tesla's soaring share price, would be liable for perhaps a $50 billion tax hit under the Democratic proposal.

Forget it, he says.

"My plan," the SpaceX founder tweeted Thursday about his fortune, "is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness."

He may well get his wish. Prospects for the billionaires tax appear to be dimming fast in Congress. The pivotal Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is signaling his opposition to the plan along with some others, including some of his fellow Democrats, who have described such a tax as logistically impractical.

Earlier this week, Musk argued, the fundamental problem is that government spends too much money — and he warned that the billionaire tax proposal could lead over time to tax hikes for more Americans.

"Eventually," he tweeted Monday, "they run out of other people's money, and then they come for you."

Supporters have said the tax could raise $200 billion over 10 years that could help fund Biden's legislative priorities. Republicans are unified in opposition to the proposal. And some have suggested it would be challenged in court.

The Democrats' proposal comes against the backdrop of growing concerns about vast economic inequality, with the wealth of many American multibillionaires having accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to increased stock and home equity, even more than before the virus struck.

Leon Cooperman, the outspoken billionaire investor who has long denounced Sen. Elizabeth Warren's own proposal for a wealth tax, has added his voice to the exasperation coming from some of the uber-wealthy.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Cooperman said of the tax, "I doubt it's legal, and it's stupid."

"What made America great," he said, "was the people who started with nothing like me making a lot of money and giving it back. A relentless attack on wealthy people makes no sense."

Not every billionaire shares such outrage. A spokesperson for George Soros, the investor and liberal philanthropist, told the AP that Soros is "supportive of the proposed billionaires tax."

And while Warren Buffett has yet to comment publicly on the proposed tax, the billionaire head of Berkshire Hathaway has long called for higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy like himself.

Bob Lord, a tax lawyer and associate fellow at the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies, said that even if this particular proposal doesn't pass, it does reflect how concerns about financial inequality are gathering momentum.

ProPublica reported in June that some of the richest Americans have paid no income tax, or nearly none, in some years — including Musk, who, the report said, paid zero income taxes in 2018. Critics argue that Musk's criticism of the billionaire tax proposal overlooks the fact that Tesla's rise has been aided by government incentives and loans.

Lord noted, for example, that the run-up in Tesla stock Monday, after a major order of Teslas from Hertz, increased Musk's wealth by roughly $37 billion — more than what the IRS collects in estate and gift tax revenue from the entire country in one year.

Wyden's proposal, Lord suggested, might need to close some loopholes.

"But I think they've done a pretty good job with it," he said. "There are folks out there who are saying the billionaires will just put their money into non-publicly traded assets. But it's not going to be that easy. It's a pretty well-crafted bill."

Such tax changes could also shift how billionaire philanthropists make donations.

Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University, said he believes that in the short term, the billionaire proposal would lead some of the uber-wealthy to rush philanthropic contributions into so-called donor-advised funds. Such funds would allow them to receive tax deductions up front without distributing any of the money. (Donors can't get the money back from these funds.)

"If, in fact, this were to pass," Mittendorf said, "it creates huge incentives to donate some of these assets that have gone up in value before the tax hits."

Elon Musk Against Democrats' Tax
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is among a handful of the ultra-rich decrying the Democrats' proposed tax against America's wealthiest. Above, Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y at the company's design studio in Hawthorne, California, on March 14, 2019. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts