OPINION: Georgia Democrats support Biden’s agenda. Will they support the taxes to pay for it?

When Joe Biden came to Georgia to mark his 100th day in office, he made it clear that his destination was no accident.

Without the state’s two new U.S. Senators to give Democrats control of the upper chamber, Biden likely would not have gotten any portion of his agenda passed through Congress by now.

Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with all six Democrats in the Georgia House delegation, have been reliable votes for the Biden agenda, especially the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act COVID relief package.

The popular package not only made COVID vaccinations free and extended the PPP loan program through May, but it will also send more than $12 billion to Georgia governments and schools to recover from the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Between votes for non-controversial nominees and emergency spending, it’s been a relatively light lift to be a Biden Democrat so far.

But Biden is about to raise the bar on all Democrats, especially those in battleground states, like Warnock and Ossoff, and House members in swing districts like Rep. Lucy McBath in the Sixth and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Seventh.

That’s because when the president laid out the “Jobs and Family” phase of his agenda on Wednesday night, he said he would pay for the $4 trillion programs, including tax cuts for middle-and-low income families, by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

“It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% to just begin to pay their fair share,” Biden said.

Specifically, the president would raise $1.5 trillion by taking the top tax bracket for those making over $400,000 from 37% to 39.6%. He is also calling for an increase the top capital gains tax rate from 20% to 39.6% for people who make more than $1 million annually.

The details can make your eyes glaze over, but the idea of any tax increase can be a dicey political proposition.

On the one hand, you’ve got to give Biden credit for admitting that proposals cost money and making an effort to avoid increasing the deficit with his plans.

When Donald Trump slashed corporate taxes, increased defense spending, and then passed trillions of dollars in emergency COVID relief, he made no attempt to shield the budget from the debt burden it would result in. In his four years in office, Trump increased the debt by $7.8 trillion.

Biden was also forthright during his presidential campaign about his plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to finance his proposals for Middle-Class Americans.

In an interview with ABC News in August, Biden specifically said, “I will raise taxes for anybody making over $400,000.”

And just as he said Wednesday night, Biden also said in August, “Everybody should pay their fair share.”

But supporting Biden’s plans could play into the hands of Republicans, who have long relied on gloomy warnings about massive Democratic tax increases to attack Democrats.

They were certainly at the heart of Republicans’ rhetoric in 2020 when they accused Warnock, Ossoff and Biden alike of being tax-increasing radical socialists.

Georgia voters rejected those arguments when they put Biden and the new senators in office. And when Biden called on a tax hike for corporations at his Duluth rally Thursday, a round of honks and cheers followed.

Ossoff and Warnock were not as specific as Biden during their campaigns about which tax increases they would vote for.

But Ossoff wrote in a policy statement that he would support policies that help Georgia’s families make and save more money, including “lower taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans.”

And during a debate with Kelly Loeffler in October, the AJC’s Greg Bluestein asked Warnock which tax policies were needed due to the pandemic.

“What I support is that we ought to give middle-class families and poor families a break right about now,” Warnock said.

On the day after Biden’s speech, as Georgia prepared to welcome the president to town, I didn’t get any more clarity when I asked both senators’ offices and other Georgia Democrats in the delegation whether they will support Biden’s tax hikes.

Although all have been quick to support Biden on his other ideas, none answered the AJC’s request for comment on increasing taxes to pay for the Jobs and Family plan.

The one exception was Bourdeaux. The former public policy and finance professor said that Biden’s ideas for infrastructure and education-related measures addressed some important needs, but she’s worried about the price tag.

“I’ll be putting on my green eyeshades and sharpening my pencil, looking at the spending,” she said, adding that infrastructure improvements have traditionally been funded through user fees and not tax hikes.

Asked last night if she opposed a specific funding mechanism, Bordeaux said, “I’m not taking anything off the table.”

The congresswoman recently joined the Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of moderate Democrats that her office described as “dedicated to pursuing fiscally-responsible policies,” among other priorities.

She was also one of the few bright spots for Democrats in 2020 when she flipped the 7th District seat in her U.S. House contest.

Bordeaux is likely to face a tough re-election bid in 2022, made more complicated by the possibility that the Republican-controlled Legislature could redraw her well-educated, suburban district to make it easier for a conservative candidate to win.

She’s not the only one. McBath in the neighboring Sixth District could also face a different district, a tough Republican, or both next year. And although Warnock hasn’t yet drawn a big-name candidate into his reelection contest, he knows he’ll have a fight on his hands in the newly designated battleground of Georgia.

Will a vote to increase taxes on the wealthiest Georgians make victory easier or harder for each of them?

It’s a question for each Georgia Democrat and for Biden, too. Because his success depends on their success.

That’s why the president came to Georgia Thursday and why the Georgia delegation’s answer to his tax plan will be the answer for the country as well.