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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 18, 2020

Sanders twists Bloomberg’s record on tax hikes and cuts to Medicare and Social Security

If Your Time is short

  • When Bloomberg advocated cuts to Medicare and Social Security as part of a budget deal, he also supported tax hikes on higher income Americans.

  • His record on raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers was mixed. In 2009, he opposed tax hikes, but in 2002, he supported a temporary tax hike.

As Bernie Sanders moved on to Nevada after winning the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, he aimed some sharp barbs at a rival who isn’t competing in Nevada’s caucuses — former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

"We will not defeat Donald Trump with a candidate who opposed modest proposals during Barack Obama’s presidency to raise taxes on the wealthy, while advocating for cuts to Medicare and Social Security," Sanders said at a large rally in Las Vegas Feb. 15.

Did Bloomberg oppose tax hikes on the wealthy while supporting cuts to Medicare and Social Security? It’s not quite the way Sanders presented it. Here’s what the record shows.

The Sanders campaign pointed to two moments in 2012 when Bloomberg opposed a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers and supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. 

While mayor in October 2012, Bloomberg, no longer a mayoral candidate himself, dismissed plans from the leading New York City mayoral contenders to raise taxes on the most well-off.

"If you want to drive out the 1% of the people that pay roughly 50% of the taxes, or the 10% of the people that pay 70-odd percent of the taxes, that's as good a strategy as I know," Bloomberg told reporters. "Our revenue would go away, and we wouldn't be able to have cops to keep us safe, firefighters to rescue us, teachers to educate our kids."

This was no one-off position. Bloomberg had opposed higher taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers since at least 2009.

But Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said that overlooks what Bloomberg did when he first became mayor in 2002.

"Mike’s response comes in the context of having drastically raised taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, both personal income tax and property taxes," Loeser said.

New York City has an income tax and rates on the wealthiest varied but ended up higher during Bloomberg’s stint as mayor from 2002 to 2013. A report from the city’s Office of Management and Budget shows that people making over $500,000 a year saw their tax rate go from 3.648% in 2002, to 4.45% in 2003 through 2005. That was temporary. (Households making over $100,000 also saw a temporary increase.)

In 2006, the rate returned to 3.648%. Then in 2010 — for all of New York State — it rose again to 3.846%.

"Bloomberg was not anti-tax across the board," said Maria Doulis, vice president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission. "He recognized the combined state and local taxes were very high in New York City and put the city at a competitive disadvantage. He would argue that if you needed to raise revenues, do it another way."

Doulis also said that tax policy at the city level is quite different from tax policy at the national level.

Bloomberg on Medicare and Social Security

In a December 2012 op-ed, Bloomberg argued for a grand deal to begin to dial down the nation’s deficits.

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Unlike his stand on taxes in New York City, this concerned the entire country, and as part of a package deal, Bloomberg voiced support for higher taxes on well-to-do Americans.

"There have been signs that Congress and the White House are beginning to move toward an agreement that would include modest tax increases and spending cuts, as well as a commitment to enact broader-based tax and entitlement reforms in 2013," Bloomberg wrote. "While the tax revenue and entitlement cuts being discussed are both less than what I and many others believe are necessary to maximize long-term growth, the specifics of the deal are to some extent less important than the act of getting one."

The context here was deficit negotiations between President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The exact terms were never fully hammered out, but basically, Obama agreed that if Republicans backed tax hikes, he would go along with trims to future Medicare and Social Security spending.

"Every version of the negotiated ‘grand bargain’ included tax increases on the rich," said Marc Goldwein with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group that advocates deficit reductions.

"Rich" was understood to include people making over $250,000 a year.

Goldwein said that Bloomberg’s words show he supported higher taxes on the wealthy as part of a package that cut Medicare and Social Security spending. 

Bloomberg’s current policy is to expand Medicare and increase Social Security’s minimum benefits. His tax plan would increase taxes on the well-to-do.

Our ruling

Sanders said Bloomberg opposed modest increases in taxes on the wealthy while advocating cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

While Bloomberg did speak against tax hikes inside New York City and encouraged cuts in Medicare and Social Security, several factors make it misleading to put the statements side by side.

When Bloomberg talked about trimming Medicare and Social Security, he also favored tax increases on wealthier Americans. That undermines Sanders’ claim.

There were times when Bloomberg spoke out against tax increases on wealthier New Yorkers, but at other times he was prepared to raise taxes on them. 

We rate this claim Mostly False.

UPDATE, Feb. 20: After we published, the Sanders campaign sent us additional examples of Bloomberg rejecting tax hikes at the national level and advocating for cuts in entitlements. For example, in 2011, asked point blank if he would raise taxes on the wealthy, Bloomberg said, "No, because I just think this economy nationwide is at a point where it really could go either way."

But in the same interview, Bloomberg also said that both sides in the deficit reduction debate were right to propose raising taxes on those making over $250,000, and spending cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Bloomberg said the majority of the money "is going to come from the wealthy." And then he added, "you have to do it with meaningful cuts done in a time frame that is believable."

The constant theme is that when Bloomberg talked about cutting Medicare and Social Security it was in the context of deficit reduction. And his plan for the deficit included tax hikes. To be sure, if he had his way, those increases would fall on both middle class and wealthy families, but he wouldn’t exempt the wealthy. Our ruling remains Mostly False.

Our Sources

Washington Post, Sanders steps up attacks on Bloomberg at candidates event in Nevada, Feb. 16, 2019

Politico, Taxing the rich is 'about as dumb a policy as I can think of,' Bloomberg says, Oct. 8, 2012

Washington Post, Michael Bloomberg: Avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ to restore U.S. confidence, Dec. 12, 2012

City of New York Office of Management and Budget, Tax revenue forecasting documentation, May 2019

Citizens Budget Commission, Tax Policy Choices and New York City’s Competitive Position, Dec. 6, 2013

Grabien, In 2013, Mike Bloomberg Says Cuts To Medicare, Social Security, Defense Have To Be a Part of Deficit Reduction, March 10, 2013

Grabien, In 2011, Bloomberg Argues Social Security, Medicare, Defense Cuts Should Be on the Table, April 24, 2011

U.S. News and World Report, Michael Bloomberg on Raising Taxes: What Would Santelli Think?, Feb. 20, 2009

Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg's Tax Lesson, Feb. 19, 2009

Bloomberg for President, Retirement and Social Security, Feb. 16, 2020

New York Times, Obama vs. Boehner: Who Killed the Debt Deal?, March 28, 2012

Politico, Fiscal framework emerges, Nov. 29, 2012

Bloomberg for President, Mike's tax plan, accessed Feb. 18, 2020

Email exchange, Josh Orton, spokesman, Sanders for President, Feb. 17, 2020

Interview, Stu Loeser, spokesman, Bloomberg for President, Feb. 17, 2020

Interview, Maria Doulis, vice president, Citizens Budget Commission, Feb. 18, 2020

Email exchange, Marc Goldwein, senior vice president, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Feb. 17, 2020


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