The former US president, in an interview broadcast on ABC News on Tuesday, said America’s billionaires “can afford” to pay more tax to fund policies the country “desperately needs”, and said: “I put myself in this category now”.
Speaking with ABC News’ Robin Roberts, Mr Obama said: “Anybody who pretends that it’s a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that a single mum gets childcare support or so that we’re doing something about climate change for the next generation, that’s an argument that’s unsustainable.”
Both the $3.5tn spending package and a smaller $1tn infrastructure bill are currently being debated in Congress and are expected to be voted on by the end of the week, as well as a crucial budget resolution to avert a shutdown of the US government.
Although Democrats are reportedly in a battle with centrists in the party to accept the $3.5tn price tag, Mr Obama, who has an estimated net worth of several million dollars, theorised that his Democratic successor would be able to pass the bill in the end.
“I believe that it will get done,” said Mr Obama. “It will be messy – it's always messy to get big, serious legislation done.”
Among the biggest proposals in Mr Biden’s $3.5tn “Build Back Better” bill are plans to lift millions out of poverty through child tax credits, funding for education and investment in cutting the country’s carbon footprint. A number of key health measures are also part of the bill.
In an apparent bid to persuade figures such as Democrat senator Joe Manchin, who may not back a bill more than $1.5tn in size, Mr Obama added in his interview that the cost of the spending would be spread out.
“When you look at the overall package, it’s got a headline price tag of $3.5tn,” the former president said. “But that’s not a single year, this is spread out over a number of years.
“And most importantly, it’s paid for by asking the wealthiest of Americans to pay a few percentage points more in taxes in order to make sure we have an economy that’s fair for everybody,” he added.
The interview came ahead of today’s start of construction at the Obama Presidential Centre in Chicago.