Okay, not by name, but he did decry the American Thinker, where Petros published an article just a few days ago. Anyway, in case you missed the news, Chuck Schumer hijacked the Senate floor on Thursday, claiming that he planned to discuss S.A. 2146 (which criminalises certain synthetic drugs), but instead giving a three thousand-word declamation about his Expatriation Prevention Act. Coincidentally, S.A. 2146 has three well-known anti-expat Senators as its cosponsors: not just Schumer, but Reed Amendment author Jack Reed (D-RI) and Foreign Earned Income Exclusion foe Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Anyway, Schumer’s speech begins on page S3548 of the Congressional Record of 24 May 2012. I’ve reprinted the whole thing below (the Congressional Record is not an object of copyright) with my comments.
On the issue of Eduardo Saverin, last week, Senator CASEY and I introduced the Ex-Patriot Act. It is a bill that makes sure that people that renounce their citizenship for tax purposes do not escape what they owe and cannot come back without repaying all that they avoided paying this great country.
It is a modest proposal, made in response to the regrettable effort by a person named Eduardo Saverin, who renounced his American citizenship to avoid paying even the historically low level of 15 percent on capital gains for the several billion dollars in windfall profit he is set to receive from the Facebook IPO.
Indeed, modest. Banning Canadian grandmothers whose houses have passed the (non-inflation-adjusted) US-dollar-denominated “covered expatriate” asset threshold thanks to Helicopter Ben is undoubtedly an entirely appropriate way of punishing Saverin.
Mr. Saverin is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the company, and it bears mentioning that the current, active leadership of Facebook is comprised of responsible corporate citizens who meet all of their responsibilities and obligations.
Mr. Saverin, on the other hand, has chosen to disown the United States to save some money on his taxes.
Senator CASEY and I have proposed a response. Our bill would bar Saverin—and others like him—from reentering the country. It would also re-impose taxes on investment income earned in the United States even if an expatriate is living abroad.
I believe that the vast majority of Americans, of all parties and persuasions, think that renouncing citizenship in America to avoid taxes is troubling, unwarranted and ungrateful.
It is upsetting, to say the least, when a person who has benefitted so thoroughly from being an American—a person who accessed and enjoyed so many exceptional aspects of American society—just takes the money and runs, rather than doing the right thing and repaying the debt he owes to a nation that nurtured, facilitated and cheered his success.
It is even more ungrateful when Schumer demonises an American residing abroad for decades as not doing the “right thing” when he chooses to swear his loyalty to the country which gave him a visa and a career, tolerated his many ignorant breaches of their customs and manners, healed him when he was injured, and accepted him as a member of their society. It is even more upsetting that Schumer thinks that turning such people into permanent exiles is acceptable collateral damage in the fight against big targets like Saverin. But of course, people like Schumer believe that in order to make an omelette you must break a few eggs, right?
And I think that the vast majority of Americans are receptive to suggestions for how we can address this kind of unacceptable behavior. Look, nobody enjoys paying taxes, but Americans know that we would not have a functioning society without them. We argue and debate about the proper rates, and what is fair, and what level will sustain and grow our economy and our middle class.
But I think that most Americans agree that paying a mere 15 percent in capital gains taxes on a sum of $3 billion or $4 billion is not too much to ask a person, especially a person who fled their own homeland because their native society could not provide a reasonable level of security to their family.
While the real point here is not just about this one case—our bill addresses a small group of evaders over the last decade or so—it is worth pointing out that in this particular case the Saverin family found security here thanks to taxpayer funded cops and stability thanks to a taxpayer funded military, and a world-class university system, like that at Harvard—again underpinned by public support.
The intentional homicide rate in my home state of California in the years before I left varied from 8 to nearly 13 per 100,000. The intentional homicide rate in my adopted hometown of Hong Kong is barely more than one percent of that: 0.2 per 100,000. I guess that makes me a “one-percenter fleeing to a tax haven”, in Schumer’s eyes
And they also found an expansive middle class that would become the market for his product. And a dynamic, entrepreneurial, free market economy that allows for significant accumulation of wealth. And functioning capital markets that were recently saved from the brink of catastrophic collapse through who? The American taxpayer.
And they found a government that invests in research and development, in things like creating the internet, and the web, and GPS, and microprocessors, all of which are necessary precursors to what Saverin and his cohorts created via Facebook.
And let’s not forget, a non-corrupt legal system, which decided a case in his favor that made him a billionaire.
Yes, Eduardo Saverin did well by being in America. And I think that most Americans know full well that what he accomplished was not done in a vacuum and that his success is the also the outgrowth of his participation in an extraordinary American society—a society that we collectively support.
No one gets rich in America on their own. And when people do well in America, they should do well by America. I believe the vast majority of Americans believe this, too. So when I introduced our legislation I was sure it would garner wide and deep support, and in general, it has.
That is why it is baffling that extreme right wing Republicans, people like Grover Norquist, the de-facto leader of the Republican Party on tax matters, would rush to the defense of a man who is turning his back on America by dodging taxes.
Amazingly, the extreme right-wing echo chamber has made Saverin into a cause celebre, defending his decision to disown the country as somehow “heroic”—Their words, not mine.
I was amazed. Just amazed. I took it as a given that citizenship—and all that it implies in terms of loyalty and duty to America—was axiomatic. But that is no longer the case. Here is just some of what was said.
Forbes said that “For De-Friending The U.S., Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin Is An American Hero.” An American hero? Renouncing your citizenship now qualifies as heroic for the hard right wing? George Washington was heroic. Rosa Parks was heroic. JOHN MCCAIN and Gabby Giffords are heroic. Navy SEALS are heroic. Eduardo Saverin is not.
National Review’s Mario Loyola says, “It is the foolish and counter-productive tax policies of the left that are chasing Eduardo Saverin to another country …” I’m sorry. 15 percent capital gains rate on several billion dollars is so onerous that it is chasing him away? I am sure any American worker would love to have that rate.
And if 15 percent is too high, what does Mr. Loyola or Mr. Norquist think the proper capital gains rate should be? Do they think we should have even lower taxes on capital gains, which disproportionately goes to the highest income earners?
What is the proper capital gains rate, Mr. Norquist? Should we make it 10 percent? 5 percent? Or should it be zero?
They won’t say. Because if they did, they would be laughed out of town.
Thus spake Chuck Schumer, the Senator from New York, who has no objection at all to the 0% capital gains rate on non-resident aliens in general since it lets his Wall Street campaign contributors suck in capital from all over the world to increase their assets under management, giving hedge funds a much bigger two-and-twenty to distribute to their partners — which thanks to Schumer’s views on “carried interest” gets taxed as capital gains rather than ordinary income.
The Wall Street Journal says we are “oppressive and demagogic.” No. In America, You are free to leave. But if you leave to purposely avoid paying your fair share, then we will attach a consequence to that dodge.
Right wing blog after blog—from the American Thinker to the Daily Caller—echoes that, “punishing Saverin for tax dodging is un-American.” Really? Silly me. I thought that renouncing one’s citizenship was un-American.
While on right wing radio they ask: “If it’s a more favorable tax haven than you can find elsewhere, why is it automatic that you are unpatriotic? Why is it automatic that you are a coward?”
Because, my fellow Americans, when you renounce your nation to fatten your bank account, you are—by definition—being greedy and unpatriotic.
Grover Norquist says our bill is like fascist Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa or communist Soviet Union, while in American Thinker we of erecting a “Berlin Wall.” And In the Examiner they are accused say we are “totalitarian.”
Good to know that Schumer (or one of his paid-by-the-column-hectare speechwriters) is reading our very own Petros, even if his arguments went in one ear and out the other.
The comparisons are absurd on their face and burden on the odious. The law Mr. Norquist references in Nazi Germany was purely; discriminatory. It targeted a particular race of people—the Jewish people—and—punished them for nothing other than being Jewish and exercising freedom of movement. It was meant to constrain that freedom by forcing Jews to reside inside Germany.
Our proposal targets no single race, creed or class. It doesn’t punish you for factors beyond your control, like who your parents were. It applies based on actions you take—namely, disowning the United States to avoid taxes. Our law is not triggered by a wish to travel beyond America’s borders, or even reside permanently in a foreign country. It is the act of renouncing one’s U.S. citizenship—for the purpose of avoiding taxes—that triggers our bill.
Except that 877A’s definition of “covered expatriate” is indeed discriminatory based on who your parents are. It allows people who were born dual citizens and who live in their country of other citizenship to renounce U.S. citizenship without penalty. The rest of us who seek to exercise our freedom of movement and our right to change our nationality do not enjoy this same exemption. And it bears repeating: “covered expatriates” are not just rich people, but anyone who can’t honestly answer “yes” to Form 8854′s question about tax compliance — perhaps for example because they didn’t know that their ordinary tax-free retirement plan is actually a “foreign grantor trust” and needs a Form 3520 to be filed every year regardless of its tiny size, with penalties starting at $10,000 for non-filing.
And that’s not even mentioning Schumer’s ignorant characterisation of the Reichsfluchtsteuer. Ira Stoll has a good discussion of the real origins of Germany’s tax on emigrants, which came from the Weimar Republic government and not the Nazis who succeeded them: it was originally intended to enforce exchange controls during the Great Depression, but was later twisted by the Nazis for their own political ends.
To what purpose might a future American administration twist the covered expatriate banishment act, or the NDAA, or the dozens of other fascist laws being passed in the United States today?
Another right wing opinion piece asks: “If you leave to protest heavy taxation why must you pay a penalty?’”
I am sorry, gentlemen, but Mr. Saverin is not protesting anything. If he was protesting, he would stay here, and fight for a lower tax rate—not simply exempt himself and leave others like him to continue paying a rate he considers too high. What he is doing is
free-riding on America, dodging paying his fair share, and pocketing the billions from an IPO windfall.
Yet another right wing blog says we are engaged in “class warfare to vilify people that create wealth-just like the Nazi’s did with the Jews.’’—I know a thing or two about what Nazi’s did— some of my relatives were killed by them—and saying that a person who made their fortune specifically because of the positive elements of American society, in turn, has a responsibility to do right by America is not even on the same planet as comparing to what the Nazis did to the Jews. That comparison is odious, but it is in a bunch of these right-wing blogs.
On and on it goes. The whole torrent of vitriol is absurd. Just absurd. Mr. Saverin is, in essence, an economic tax dodger.
The idea that “if he was protesting, he would stay here” is just an alternative form of the same argument we often see directed at U.S. Persons abroad by those on the right: the idea that the only legitimate response to the injustice of threatened six-figure penalties on four-figure “undisclosed foreign” ETF holdings is to continue subjecting yourself to it, and that those of us who would merely prefer get as far away from it as possible are traitorous cowards. A curious notion for a nation built on the backs of immigrants (who stopped paying taxes in their homelands as soon as they left, much to the benefit of the United States).
And once upon a time, the right wing castigated draft dodgers for failing to heed their nation’s call. Those who fled the country were vilified by the right wing as cowards, as self-absorbed, as traitors.
Yet, in this case, the exact same kind of unpatriotic, un-American behavior is actually being defended by the extreme right wing.
It is off the deep end.
And when a view this irrational has overtaken one end of the political spectrum, it has serious, negative consequences for our ability to solve our nation’s problems. If those on the other side of the negotiating table are this obsessive on taxes—that they consider their minimization a higher priority than preserving our national identity—then it is no wonder a grand bargain on taxes and spending has been so out of reach.
In the last several years, the far right has disregarded one historically conservative priority after another in favor of an all-consuming obsession with protecting low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
First, it was the deficit. The Republicans have for years claimed that deficit reduction was their top priority. But that has since been exposed as a myth.
Every independent economist will tell you that the deficit problem cannot be solved except through both spending cuts and revenue increases. In fact, preserving tax cuts for the very wealthy is counterproductive to the goal of reducing our annual deficits.
Yet the far right marches on in defense of tax cuts for millionaires, deficits be damned.
Last August, our Nation’s creditworthiness became a second casualty of the far right’s insistence on low taxes for the wealthy. The right wing was so dug in against any reasonable fiscal compromise that they forced a manufactured crisis over raising the Nation’s debt limit. This caused the first-ever downgrade of our Nation’s credit rating.
Unbelievably, the far right prioritized millionaire tax breaks over our Nation’s full faith and credit.
Despite that unreasonableness, we thought we had finally figured out a way to force the far right to come to grips with the need to deal with revenues. We come up with a mechanism called the sequester that would trigger harsh defense cuts if the Republicans continued to refuse any new revenues.
Surely, if there was one thing conservatives prized as much as tax cuts, it was defense spending, right? Wrong. As we speak, the far right remains unwilling to cede an inch on revenues, no matter what it means for the Pentagon. The deficit; the Nation’s creditworthiness; National security—all of these have taken a backseat to the far right’s idolatry on taxes. Now they have gone so far, they have taken this idolatry all the way to its extreme end point by making Eduardo Saverin into their patron saint.
I for one do not make Saverin into my “patron saint”, and nor do many other commenters here, but when Schumer and his ilk, along the way to punishing Saverin himself, demonise and propose banishing people with tiny fractions of Saverin’s assets — people who are simply trying to live ordinary financial lives abroad after successful careers nurtured not by the U.S. but by their countries of residence and their non-American spouses, customers, and neighbours — I have no choice but to fight back. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.
In the name of low taxes for the wealthy, they have lionized an inherently unpatriotic person. The hero worship of Saverin is Norquist’s extreme right wing anti-tax agenda being carried to its logical conclusion. And it is a scary, absurd place where even a tax dodger who renounces America for his own 30 pieces of silver is celebrated as a patriot and an American hero.
It is perverse.
Reasonable Republicans rightly seem wary to embrace taking things this far. House Speaker JOHN BOEHNER labeled Saverin’s move “absolutely outrageous” and said he would support legislation to stop wealthy ex-pats relocating to avoid taxes.
Others have been quiet, perhaps cowed by fears of being the next target of the right wing echo chamber.
Shouldn’t loyalty to America—and the broader responsibilities and duty of citizenship—trump base, non-essential financial self-interest?
Sadly, the answer of the extreme right is no.
The Wall Street Journal attacked the thrust of our proposed legislation as an example of the “age of envy.” Well, it is not envy. In fact, I am happy those who intended and invested in Facebook got very rich. Having an idea and succeeding and maybe getting rich off this great idea is the American way. More power to them.
Schumer’s actual attitude towards Saverin’s property is better summed up by the quote at the end of his speech last week (starting at 0:59): “As for the rest of his money, unfortunately, he gets to do what he wants with it.”
However, what is not the American way is taking a free ride on all the exceptional aspects of American society. What is not the American way is deriving massive advantage from various publicly supported elements of that society and then skipping town when you hit the jackpot. Yes, you are free to leave. You have a right to be selfish— even greedy—when renouncing this Nation.
I understand this will make you more money and there is a rational, simplistic argument to be made in favor of doing it—if the only factor that mattered was always getting richer and all other values were irrelevant. But we Americans have other values too.
America is special for many reasons. It is secure, it offers freedom of expression, it is diverse and tolerant, it is entrepreneurial, and it is economically and culturally dynamic. Looking out for the common good is in our blood. It is a part of our shared history and vision of our Founding Fathers.
Americans are welcome to believe that America is special. It’s when they use that belief to argue that Americans have no legitimate reason to emigrate and renounce citizenship that it becomes dangerously jingoistic.
According to Reporters Without Borders, there are forty-six countries countries offering better press freedom than the United States, among them Mali, Cape Verde, and Costa Rica. According to the Global Migrant Origin Database, there are dozens of countries and territories with a higher proportion of immigrants than the United States, including small ones like Switzerland and New Zealand, as well as large ones like Germany, Kazakhstan, Australia, and Canada. As for the economy, the World Bank ranks the U.S. at #72 on the “ease of paying taxes”, edged out by Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and far behind many higher-tax countries like #14 Denmark and #8 Canada.
We provide for the common defense. We promote the general welfare. We are not just out for ourselves. No. We look to secure the blessings of liberty not just for ourselves but for our posterity. It is this, and so much more, that makes America an exceptional society. I am appalled by the reaction. I am not appalled by a debate on tax policy. I am appalled by making heroic a man who renounces his citizenship to escape a tax rate, capital gains of 15 percent.
Too often I think every action and dilemma we face is now reduced to a question of whether this means bigger government or smaller government. Since those on the extreme right believe we must have smaller government at all costs, they vehemently oppose all taxes. But sometimes, as with this case and others like it, it is not just about the size of government. It is about doing what is fair and right and just based on your responsibilities as a citizen.
Citizenship is not simply a business decision, it is not just a transaction. Those on the right, such as Grover Norquist, defending this economic draft dodger are saying something very different. They are saying the social contract somehow excludes the accumulation of money. We know we give up certain rights and freedoms to live in a place like America, but we cannot just carry out vigilantism to pursue justice.
So in conclusion, being an American is not a one-way street. There are enormous benefits to being a citizen of our Nation and a member of the amazing society that has spawns. [sic] But there are also responsibilities and duties, such as patriotism, service, contributing your fair share, and commitment to community and family. As we approach critical debates on the matters of taxation and fairness and job creation so critical to keeping America, the greatest Nation on the face of the Earth, I certainly hope it is these values, not glorified self-interest, that drowns out all other values that guide our actions.
Thank you. I yield the floor.
If you read on in the Congressional Record, you’ll see that Schumer’s rambling cut into another Senator’s time to speak about S.A. 2146, forcing the vote on it to be delayed by five minutes. Mike Enzi (R-WY) expressed his support for Schumer (making him the fourth Republican to publicly do so) while mildly rebuking him for going off topic:
Mr. President, while I agree with much of what the Senator has said, I hope this doesn’t encourage other partisan diatribes to come to the floor when we are on a bipartisan bill and trying to solve getting necessary pharmaceuticals to the market as soon as possible. We have a limited time of debate, and we need to stay on the subject. So I hope others are not encouraged to come down to counter anything they may have heard or to make different charges.
We have some time left on Bingaman and some others, but I hope we can move forward on the bill.
I yield the floor to the Chair.
Note that Enzi is also a member of the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight, along with Schumer and Ben Cardin (who become an additional co-sponsor of the Ex-PATRIOT Act on Wednesday). It remains to be seen whether he was simply being diplomatic to avoid wasting further time on Schumer’s attempts to get mentioned on the evening news, or whether he is genuinely sympathetic to Schumer’s aims.