Washington (CNN) - With the White House seizing on income inequality as a key issue ahead of this year’s midterm elections, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser on Friday brushed off “class warfare” charges from the nation’s wealthiest citizens as “hyperventilation."
Appearing at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, Jason Furman, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was asked how the administration plans to talk about inequality without stoking paranoia among the rich.
“Just take a look at facts, and you look at the tax rate on the top one percent, for example,” Furman said. “Even with the higher rates as part of the tax deal at the beginning of the year, it’s still lower than it was in the mid-1990s because, for example, the capital gains and dividends rates are both lower than they were then.”
He added, “Some is this just hyperventilation around not paying attention to specific facts and data. No one here is talking about 100 percent tax rates or 70 percent tax rates.”
In the Wall Street Journal this week, Silicon Valley investor Tom Perkins compared the “progressive war on the American one percent” to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. “I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” he wrote in a letter to the newspaper.
Perkins later apologized for the Holocaust comparison.
Furman said the nation’s top earners should join middle class and lower-income Americans in a conversation about the inequality issue.
At the session with reporters, Furman also made the case for immigration reform, saying that a path to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented workers continues to be a top demand of the president.
House Republicans indicated Thursday at their retreat in Maryland that they are open to some kind of legal status for undocumented immigrants, but stopped short of backing full citizenship.
“There are a lot of arguments for why you want to have pathway to citizenship,” Furman said. “One thing the president said is you don’t want to have a major, once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and solve half the problem and leave people in some in-between state.”
“The more you bring people in from the shadows and give them certainty, the better that is for the economy,” he said.