Death Tax: Achieving What’s Possible

By March 8, 2010Taxation

Bloomberg reports on business groups lobbying for a 35 percent death tax to prevent a return to the 55 percent tax rate at the end of the year. Business has long argued for eliminating the death tax altogether, but current political and budgetary realities make that an unrealistic goal at the moment.

A 35 percent rate “is really that sort of sweet spot of what’s acceptable to all sides,” said Dena Battle, director of tax policy for Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers. “We don’t want to see the tax go up to 55. We didn’t want to see the tax at 45.”

The longer Congress delays action, bringing a 55 percent tax closer to reality, the fewer reasons Democrats have to consider Kyl’s and Lincoln’s 35 percent alternative, said Jeff Shoaf, senior executive director for government affairs at Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors.

In a December 2009 column, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) explained the reasoning behind the language he and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have sponsored:

I have always believed that permanent repeal of the death tax represents the best policy, since it frees capital in the private market for more productive uses than fueling the federal government’s spending binge. However, even in the best of times, we have only been able to win 56 votes in the Senate for repeal, just shy of the needed 60. With the current makeup of Congress, permanent repeal is simply not in reach.

With that in mind, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln and I offered an amendment to the Senate budget resolution in 2009 that attempted to strike the best compromise. It would have permanently established a 35 percent death tax rate with a $5 million exemption amount indexed to inflation. That amendment passed by a vote of 51 to 48 with the support of 11 Democrats and every Republican senator. But, unfortunately, the congressional budget resolution is only an advisory measure.

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