Death Tax: Epithets versus Jobs

By April 9, 2009Economy, Taxation

Today’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “Death Blow,” on the death tax points us to two representative expressions on the issue last week’s Senate budget debate.

The Senate voted 51-48 (roll call) for an amendment sponsored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to cut the death tax rate permanently to 35 percent and exempt all estates of less than $10 million per couple ($5 million for a single taxpayer) from any tax. President Obama is seeking a 45 percent rate with just a $7 million exemption.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) inveighed against the amendment (his remarks are here). Excerpt:

President Obama inherited a crisis that no President should have to inherit or fix. Instead of focusing full time on the future, he and we in Congress must first clean up the devastating mistakes of the past. We can only turn the page from the recession to recovery if we watch every single taxpayer dollar the way families watch every dollar in their budget. Every dollar counts.

That is why it is so stunning, so outrageous, that some would choose this hour of national crisis to push an amendment to slash the estate tax for the superwealthy. This isn’t for the wealthy; this is for the superwealthy. Yet that is what we see here today.

Superwealthy? Others see jobs creators. Sen. Lincoln had moments earlier recounted a letter in a newspaper from a member of a family who runs a timber operation in southwest Arkansas, a family business since 1907 — and his family had been hit five times by the estate tax. From Sen. Lincoln’s remarks:

Think about this type of family business. They have grown their business, reinvested in it over a century’s worth of time, put almost all their profits back into it, and now this particular company employs over 1,000 Arkansans and has multiple mills that are worth a good bit of money—millions of dollars.

This amendment provides real relief to our family-owned businesses. In a time when our Government has handed out billions upon billions to failed Wall Street banks, it is time we provide a little relief to our businesses on Main Street that are in need of help right now. These are people who employ more than half the workers in Arkansas. These are the people who, if we reform the estate tax, will invest in their businesses and create more jobs.

Our emphasis. And the economic reality speaks far louder than invidious labels.

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