Fact Checker: Billionaires and Building Back Better

An ad from advocacy group Tax March began running in Iowa last month. One of the ad claims can be measured. But another is, at this point, speculation.

Democratic leaders in the US Senate want to pass two important bills by the end of October.

One is a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which has support from both Democrats and Republicans. The second is the Build Back Better Act, a package that would cost about $3.5 trillion over 10 years and includes free universal preschool, reduced prescription drug costs and tax credits for electric vehicles.

Tax March, a left-wing advocacy group based in Washington, DC, last month announced a $2 million ad campaign to pressure members of Congress to support Build Back Better. One such ad, targeting U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican representing Iowa’s 2nd District, is airing in Iowa.

A 15-second ad that began airing on September 29 begins by saying, “During the pandemic, billionaires got $1 trillion richer. A chart on screen shows that the net worth of American billionaires has grown from around $2.8 trillion on March 18, 2020 to over $4.6 trillion on August 17.

“If they paid their fair share of taxes, it would mean expanding Medicare and lowering prescription drug prices,” the ad says.

Tax March asks Iowans to call Miller-Meeks and ask him to support Build Back Better.

To analyse

For “billionaires getting richer,” the ad cites an Aug. 24 report from the Institute for Policy Studies that says US billionaires have earned $1.8 trillion amid the pandemic. The institute, founded in 1963 by two members of the Kennedy administration, is a Washington, DC, nonprofit that focuses on peace and social justice as well as climate action.

For analysis, Forbes’ 34th Annual Global Billionaires List is used for pre-pandemic numbers and Forbes’ Richest in 2021 list for August numbers. Forbes uses stock prices and exchange rates to calculate an individual’s net worth at any given time.

We give Tax March an A on the first claim, which is based on solid data consistently reported over several decades.

The second request is more delicate. First, Tax March says that if America’s billionaires paid their “fair share,” there would be enough money to cover the changes proposed in Build Back Better, in particular the expansion of Medicare and lower drug prices. A spokesperson for the group said that by “equitable share” he means tax increases proposed by congressional Democrats.

To pay for Build Back Better, Democrats are proposing that the top tax rate be increased to 39.6% for people earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples. There would also be a 3% surtax on Americans whose adjusted income exceeds $5 million a year, the Associated Press reported. The proposal would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on annual corporate income over $5 million.

President Joe Biden tweeted on September 25 that Build Back Better would add “zero dollars” to the national debt due to proposals to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has yet to conduct an analysis of Build Back Better, likely because the final wording of the bill has not been drafted, Forbes reports. The bill will likely be advanced as part of the reconciliation process, which begins with a congressional budget resolution, followed by committees drafting separate bills to achieve the overall goals of the proposal. A reconciliation bill needs a single Senate majority to pass, rather than 60 votes to survive a filibuster.

So while raising taxes on the ultra-rich would generate a lot of money, the CBO hasn’t done an analysis of how much. We also don’t know how much specific elements of Build Back Better — the ad mentions Medicare expansion and lower drug prices — will cost over the 10-year period.


The purpose of the Tax March ad is to raise awareness of the Build Back Better plan, which the group supports. It’s possible that some Iowans will call Miller-Meeks and ask her to support the plan based on the ad, but there’s no specific research on her on the spot.

The group’s first claim that the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezose of the world are increasing their net worth during the pandemic is true.

The claim that if these billionaires paid their “fair share” of taxes, it would cover the cost of the $3.5 trillion over 10 years of the Build Back Better plan cannot be verified at this point. The fact checker considered downgrading Tax March based on the speculative nature of the claim, but our tradition has been to not include unverifiable claims in our scores.

That said, we give Tax March an A for the one claim that can be measured.


The Fact Checker team verifies statements made by an Iowa political candidate/leader or national candidate/leader about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our marketplace.

Claims must be independently verifiable. We assign statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim that you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

The members of the Fact Checker team are Erin Jordan, Michaela Ramm and Marissa Payne. This fact checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.

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