Key myths about the Capitol insurrection were completely demolished at first Jan. 6 committee hearing
The January 6 House select committee began with a grunt's-eye view. Four police officers testified Tuesday, under oath and in riveting detail, about their parts in the struggle to fend off 9,000 armed and angry Trump supporters who stormed the United States Capitol to stop the certification of the election. Sergeant Aquilino Gonell likened it to a medieval battle. "We fought hand-to-hand, inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the capitol by a mob intent on subverting our democracy," he said.
The testimony and the questioning that followed methodically debunked self-serving GOP talking points about how the assault on the capitol was a peaceful gathering, a raucous but harmless protest or a spontaneous outburst. Many insurgents came armed and prepared for violence with the clear strategic objective of seizing the capitol building. Someone even planted bombs in advance of the main assault.
The officers described their colleagues' efforts to recover illegal guns from rioters before, during and after the battle. Some rioters were arrested on gun charges, but we'll never truly know how many people brought guns that day. We do know that members of the mob were armed with an array of weapons, including a hunting knife, a cattle prod, bear mace, flagpoles, and shields and batons wrested from police officers themselves, not to mention improvised weapons they fashioned from metal bike racks and barriers. The sheer size and fury of the mob was perhaps the most terrifying threat. Officers testified that they feared being literally torn to pieces or even lynched. They spoke of serious injuries and the trauma they and their families still live with.
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone said he was dragged into the crowd, beaten and tasered until he suffered a heart attack. Fanone recalled insurgents lunging for his sidearm as well as one man yelling something like, "Kill him with his own gun!" Metropolitan Police officer Daniel Hodges recalled the agony of being crushed by the surging crowd into a door frame while a rioter beat his face with his own baton.
Some apologists say the crowd was simply caught up in the heat of the moment. The testimony established that the attack was premeditated. Hodges testified that, before the attack began, a group of white men in tactical gear, who looked to Hodges like they were "prepared for much more than listening to politicians speak in the park," approached him and fellow riot cops. One asked, "Is this all the manpower you have? Do you really think you're going to stop all these people?" US Capitol police officer Harry Dunn said he received a text message from a friend that morning with what purported to be a screenshot of a plan for storming the Capitol, including the injunction to "keep your guns hidden." The screenshot was entered into the record.
Asked what questions he felt the January 6 committee should investigate, Officer Fanone urged the committee to investigate whether there was any coordination between members of the Congress, their staff and the insurgents. Officer Dunn used a powerful analogy to describe what he wants—that of a hitman. If a hitman kills someone, he goes to prison, Dunn said. So too must the person who hired the hitman.
"It was an attack carried out on January 6, and a hitman sent them," Dunn said.
"I want you to get to the bottom of that."
You couldn't ask for a clearer mandate.
The number of multimillion-dollar individual retirement accounts has soared in the past decade, as more wealthy Americans use the tax-advantaged vehicles to shield fortunes from income taxes, according to new data released by Congress today.
The data reveals for the first time the staggering amount of money socked away in tax-free mega Roth accounts: more than $15 billion held by just 156 Americans.
The new data also shows that the number of Americans with traditional and Roth IRAs worth over $5 million tripled, to more than 28,000, between 2011 and 2019.
The data was requested by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., following ProPublica's story last month exploring the rise of mega Roth IRAs. The story, based on confidential IRS data obtained by ProPublica, revealed that tech mogul Peter Thiel has the largest known Roth IRA, worth $5 billion as of 2019.
In a Senate Finance hearing on retirement on Wednesday, Wyden said such massive accounts underscore the country's inequalities. “Individuals at the very top — at the very, very top — are able to game the rules to get ahead and basically abuse taxpayer-subsidized accounts with pricey accountants and lawyers," Wyden said. “This increases the already existing retirement inequality between retirement haves and have-nots to an extreme level."
Roth IRAs were established in 1997 to incentivize middle-class Americans to save for retirement. Congress imposed strict limits, including a cap on how much can be contributed to the accounts each year, which today stands at $6,000 for most Americans. The average Roth account was worth $39,108 at the end of 2018.
But a select set of the ultrawealthy have managed to get around limits set by Congress and transformed the vehicle into a powerful onshore tax shelter. One way they've done that is by buying nonpublic shares of companies with extremely low valuations. That allows them to tuck a huge volume of shares into a retirement account. Congressional investigators have previously found that the IRS has struggled to enforce rules around these investments, including whether the valuations are legitimate.
Once money is deposited into a Roth account, any proceeds from investment gains are tax free. So, for example, a Roth owner who sells a successful tech investment for a $1 million profit gets to keep all of the money, saving a potential $200,000 in federal taxes. The savings can then be reinvested, tax free, as long as the Roth holder waits till he or she is at least 59 and a half before withdrawing the money. Owners of traditional IRAs, by contrast, enjoy tax-free growth but must pay income tax on withdrawals. The Roth is considered the more powerful tax-avoidance tool for the wealthy.
The latest numbers come from analysts at Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. They update a widely cited study from the Government Accountability Office that released figures on large IRAs in 2011.
The new figures show that, as of 2019, nearly 3,000 taxpayers held Roth IRAs worth at least $5 million. (The total of more than 28,000 people holding IRAs of that size includes both traditional and Roth IRAs.) The aggregate value of those Roth IRAs was more than $40 billion.
Both Wyden and Neal said in statements that the new figures show the need for reform. Neal said that “IRAs are intended to help Americans achieve long-term financial security, not to enable those who already have extraordinary wealth to avoid paying their fair share in taxes and deepen existing inequalities in our nation." Neal said earlier this month, in the wake of the ProPublica article, that the Ways and Means Committee would draft a bill to “stop IRAs from being exploited."
For his part, Wyden said, “As the Finance Committee continues to develop proposals to make the tax code more fair, closing these loopholes will be a top priority." Wyden first proposed an overhaul of IRA rules to prevent the accounts from being used as large tax shelters several years ago. One reform that is being discussed would prohibit investors from putting assets that are not available to ordinary Americans, such as shares of startup companies, into retirement accounts.
Wyden and Neal's push for reforms comes as Congress is considering bipartisan retirement legislation. The bills are being pitched as helping ordinary Americans save for retirement, including by proposing to automatically enroll workers in employer-sponsored retirement plans. But they also include perks for the retirement and financial industries, such as relaxing rules in ways that are seen as a boon for insurers. And buried deep inside the two complex bills are provisions that could make it harder for the IRS to crack down on the ultrawealthy who dodge tax rules.
Actor Susan Sarandon organized a demonstration outside the Bronx office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Monday, reminding the progressive lawmaker that she had made "a lot of promises" to her constituency but has failed to pull out all the stops achieving her healthcare agenda.
"I'm here to say to The Squad, and especially AOC, who, you know, did make a lot of promises, that we still have faith in you and we would like to see if you have a better plan than we've been able to see, please share it," Sarandon said to a crowd. "If there's a pathway you've got that we're not aware of, please share it. Because we're losing hope here that you represent us."
The crowd specifically gathered to protest against the apparent lack of action shown by The Squad in expanding Medicare forAll when roughly 30 million Americans lack access to healthcare.
"You campaigned on Medicare for All. But you didn't demand a floor vote on it when you had the power to leverage the Speaker vote. You didn't demand that single-payer be included in the pandemic recovery bill," the petitioners wrote online, adding: "You moved the introduction of the House bill till after the stimulus bill passed reducing your own leverage. You have never demanded that Biden use Section 1881A of the Social Security Act to expand Medicare to every American by executive action."
For remedy, the petition demands that President Joe Biden – who last year said he'd veto Medicare for All – declare a pandemic health emergency and "expand Medicare to every American using Section 1881A of the Social Security Act."
Back in 2019, Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced H.R.1384, dubbed the "Medicare for All Act of 2019," which would have offered a single-payer health care system to all Americans, who would effectively be enrolled upon birth or residency. The plan also bars cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), putting the onus on the government to cover all health expenses.
The bill – which Ocasio-Cortez co-sponsored – was referred to a number of committees that same year, with subcommittee hearings held in December. However, the measure failed to see a floor vote, preventing it from getting to the Senate.
"It's so difficult for people that are independent to get elected in the first place," Sarandon said, "and then to see the very people that sponsored the bill not stand up for it, is very disheartening."
Throughout 2020, Congress passed a number of COVID-19 relief bills aimed at helping Americans struggling under the weight of the pandemic, though none of these bills comprehensively expanded Medicare
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