08 Jun 2006

Death Tax Repeal Fails

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The Wall Street Journal put the debate on the Death Tax (which costs more to collect than it adds to the Federal coffers).

Americans favor repealing the death tax not because they think it will help them directly. They’re more principled than that. Two-thirds of the public wants to repeal it because they think taxing a lifetime of thrift due to the accident of death is unfair, and even immoral. They also understand that the really rich won’t pay the tax anyway because they hire lawyers to avoid it.

For proof that they’re right, they need only watch the current debate. The superrich or their kin–such as Bill Gates Sr. and Warren Buffett–are some of the loudest voices opposing repeal. Yet they are able to shelter their own vast wealth by creating foundations or via other crafty estate planning. Edward McCaffery, an estate tax expert at USC Law School, argues that “if breaking up large concentrations of wealth is the intention of the death tax, then it is a miserable failure.”

Do the Kennedys or Rockefellers look any poorer from the existence of a tax first created in 1917? The real people who pay the levy are the thrifty middle class and entrepreneurs who’ve built up a modest nest egg or business and are hit by a 46% tax rate when they die. Americans want family businesses, ranches, farms and other assets to be passed from one generation to the next. Yet the U.S. has one of the highest death tax rates in the world.

But two Republican poltroons in the Senate joined the Party of Envy to defeat the repeal 57-41. A 60 vote majority was needed to end a democrat filibuster against basic decency.

Besides Mr. Baucus (D – Montana), three other Democrats voted to end debate and clear the way for a vote on repeal. They were Senator Ben E. Nelson of Nebraska, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Senator Blanche L. Lincoln of Arkansas. Two Republicans, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, voted to block the bill.

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