Bezos thanks Amazon customers who ‘paid’ for space flight, sparking criticism from Sen. Warren and AOC

Soon after Amazon (AMZN) chairman and founder Jeff Bezos returned to Earth from space on Tuesday, the billionaire received sharp criticism from progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) contrasting the low tax bills paid by him and Amazon with those borne by everyday Americans who “keep this country running.”

The criticism came in response to remarks made by Bezos thanking Amazon customers and employees whose purchases and work “paid for” the space expedition, which was carried out by another Bezos-backed venture, Blue Origin.

In a tweet responding to the remarks, Warren said Bezos, “Forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing.”

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also responded sharply to Bezos on Twitter.

Many of the nation’s wealthiest executives, including Bezos, use legal tax-avoidance methods that allow them to pay low or no income taxes in some years, according to an investigation released by ProPublica last month.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the hearing of Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell, before Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing to examine the Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the hearing of Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell, before Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing to examine the Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during the hearing of Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell, before Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing to examine the Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The investigation calculated a “true tax rate” based on the amount in taxes paid by a billionaire and the amount his or her wealth grew over a given period. By that measure, from 2014 to 2018, Bezos paid a 0.98% tax rate, the investigation found.

By comparison, in recent years, the median American household brought in $70,000 per year and paid 14% in federal taxes, the report says.

Alongside the low taxes paid by Bezos, tech giant Amazon effectively paid no federal income taxes for 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis conducted by the left-leaning Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy in 2019.

The company saw an uptick in recent years, paying $162 million in taxes in 2019 and reporting in February a tax expense of $1.8 billion, an approximation of its 2020 tax bill, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The criticism from Warren comes as some Democrats in Washington D.C. seek to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. 

President Joe Biden has called on corporate America to pay its “fair share,” referring to his proposed tax hike that would raise the rate for corporations from 21% to 28%. Prior to a tax overhaul passed during the Trump administration, the corporate tax rate was 35%.

In addition, Biden has proposed tax hikes on the wealthy that would increase the top individual income tax rate to 39.6% from 37%, tax capital gains as normal income for households making more than $1 million, and close the carried interest loophole.

In March, Biden singled out Amazon as a corporation that should pay a higher tax bill. A month later, Bezos said he supports a higher tax rate for corporations in order to pay for Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Warren’s tweet.

In 2019, in response to criticism from then-presidential candidate Biden over its purported failure to pay taxes, Amazon tweeted, “We pay every penny we owe. Congress designed tax laws to encourage companies to reinvest in the American economy. We have. .$200B in investments since 2011 & 300K US jobs. Assume VP Biden’s complaint is w/ the tax code, not Amazon.”

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