the blog of DC Drinking Liberally
The estate tax repeal is back yet again. Actually this time it’s just a cut, not a repeal, but it remains a bad idea to help establish a hereditary plutocracy while adding even more to our already insanely large deficit.
When I first heard about the Republican plan to tie a minimum wage increase to an estate tax cut, I foolishly believed that Democrats wouldn’t swallow the poison pill. The Republican trick was so transparent that it would be easy to explain to the average voter, to defuse accusations that Democrats blocked a minimum wage increase — accusations that wouldn’t be very believable anyway.
Alas, at 1:30 this morning, 34 Democrats did swallow it, and the bill passed the House. Since 21 Republicans voted against the bill, it would have failed if the Democrats had stood together. What is wrong with these people?
The bill doesn’t even index the minimum wage for inflation (or tie future increases to congressional pay raises, as some Democrats have proposed). It just provides a one-time increase, which means we’ll be facing the same problem again in a few years. The accompanying estate tax cut, of course, is permanent.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where I’m still hoping the Democrats will have a little more spine. There is some reason to hope it can be defeated:
But the maneuvering by House and Senate GOP leaders to package the measures over the objection of some Senate chairmen caused severely bruised feelings. Lawmakers from both parties said last night that the legislation could easily collapse in the Senate, underscoring Democratic contentions that Congress has become dysfunctional. […]
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) signaled he would try to scuttle the tax bill next week. “Republicans have made perfectly clear who they stand with and who they are willing to fight for: the privileged few,” he said.
Thomas Jefferson felt that limiting inheritance was the way to avoid an aristocracy, and that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living” and “the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.” Let’s hope today’s Democrats maintain those beliefs.
Following on the heels of yesterday’s “marriage protection” foolishness, Bill Frist in his wisdom has decided that the next priority for the Senate to address is the growing gap between rich and poor. The Republican strategy, as you might have guessed, is to make the gap larger. With luck, they won’t be any more successful with this than they were with yesterday’s legislation.
Since the Republicans like to call it the “death tax”, you might think the estate tax applies to everyone who dies. In fact it currently affects only 1 in 200 estates. Nevertheless, the Republicans don’t just want to lower it or tinker with it — they want to do away with it entirely, so that even billionaires can leave their entire estates to their heirs without paying a penny in taxes. It fits in with the general plan of eliminating taxes on all forms of income for the rich (like capital gains), leaving the working class to shoulder the entire burden of paying for government services through taxes on wages.
On the other hand, some of us think that a tax that affects only people who have done nothing to earn the money (other than having the luck of being born into the right family) is not a bad kind of tax to have, if you must have taxes — which we must if we want to have a government. Let’s hope the forces of sanity prevail, and this repeal is defeated again.
The photo above is from a Billionaires for Bush event I participated in back on April 25. It was part of a press conference by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy reporting that lobbying for the estate tax repeal was largely funded by 18 ultra-wealthy families who stand to gain billions if it passes. Note that the figures on the graph showing the percentage gain from “investing” in lobbying for the legislation are actually missing two zeros.
Update: The repeal attempt failed again, falling three votes short of the 60 needed for cloture. Most Democrats voted on the side of the average American, along with Republicans Lincoln Chafee (RI) and George Voinovich (OH). Democrats Max Baucus (MT), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), and Bill Nelson (FL) inexplicably voted for cloture. Unfortunately, the issue will likely return before the end of this Congress.
Tuesday night I donned my tuxedo and headed down to the post office near Union Station, where I assumed the identity of Caspar “Cap” Gaines, billionaire, and met up with my fellow billionaires Ivan Tital, Anita Nuther Taxcutte, R. Owen Lawes, and Marie Antoinette Gaines (my cousin, or sister, or wife, or something). We were there to mingle with last-minute taxpayers dropping off their 1040s and thank the little people for paying their taxes so that billionaires don’t have to, as well as to inform people about the estate tax (or “dynasty tax”) repeal.
It was my first event with Billionaires for Bush, and I was afraid the group might be past its prime, but the satirical protesters are still going strong (though searching for a new name as Bush becomes less relevant). As Ivan says, it’s a mix of people who enjoy dressing up and wonks who are deeply concerned about the way government policies are tilting increasingly toward the ultrarich. Ivan himself fits solidly into both categories.
If you’ve got a tuxedo or gown or can pull together some other sort of billionairewear, consider joining in the fun. The DC chapter has a lunchtime event coming up next week, focusing on the dynasty tax. If you’re interested, contact Ivan Tital, the Richly-Upholstered Chair of the chapter, at email@example.com.
The photo of Anita and Ivan comes from Utne’s coverage of the September 24 antiwar march. Tuesday night wasn’t quite as exciting.
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