Death tax should be laid to rest

By Nicholas Sanchez
web posted February 19, 2001

It is all but certain that the American people are finally going to get some sort of tax relief. Thanks to the election of a new president and the diffident blessing of the head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, the debate on Capitol Hill is not if there is going to be a tax cut, but rather how much it will be.

George Bush must be loudly commended for making a tax cut the centerpiece of his 2000 campaign. More importantly, he stuck to his guns after some not-inconsequential voices in his own party (read: House Speaker Dennis Hastert) voiced their nervousness at the proposed size of the Bush tax-cut plan ($1.6 billion dollars).

"Pashaw", said Bush. And so now begins the Goldilocks and the three bears-like quibbling: This tax cut is too big. . . this tax cut is too small. . . etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in the House are not making this fight any easier for the Bush Administration. The GOP leadership has decided that instead of trying to ram one large tax bill through, they will instead bring up several bills . . . with the hope that as many tax cuts will pass in individual votes by the full House as possible. This is in contrast to the Senate, which will be voting on one single tax package.

The House's strategy has raised a few eyebrows. Tax cut proponents are worried that by trying to pass the full package item-by-item, moderate to liberal Republicans will be able to vote in favor of easy tax cuts, like the "Marriage Penalty" tax, only to defect on other parts of the plan all in the name of debt reduction.

When such concerns have come up, the leadership has made it perfectly clear that they have every confidence that they will be able to pass enough tax cuts so that it will resemble George Bush's vision of across the board tax cuts. They point out that they have passed a tax cut every year that they have been in the majority. Which, while true, hardly explains why with a mere 5-seat advantage over the Democrats, they would risk the chance of liberal Republicans and Democrats carving out the meat of Bush's proposal.

Regardless of whether this is a wise strategy or not, this is how it is going to be debated in the lower chamber. So now conservatives are going to have to prioritize and fight to keep certain portions of the overall bill intact. One priority that conservatives should set for themselves is the repeal of the infamous "Death Tax."

There is hardly so repugnant a tax that exists as the Death Tax. Unlike other taxes that go after working people, this tax goes after those who have gone on to their eternal reward. Upon your death, the government can seize up to 55% of your savings.

That's right. The tax collector is ready to usurp more than half of the fruits of your labor just shortly after you have assumed room temperature. So as your family grieves for your passing, they also have to worry about dealing with the smiling faces at the IRS, who are there to settle up.

Many so-called "ordinary" people -- Joe six-pack types -- hear this argument and think that it has nothing to do with them; that only the rich pay this tax. That is a mistaken assumption. The rich are blessed with lawyers and crafty accountants who can help them avoid paying this tax post mortem. Often, the people most affected by this are small business owners and farmers.

On this issue, no one has done more to raise awareness on who is really affected by the Death Tax than Jim Martin, president of the seniors' group, 60 Plus. They have been fighting for its repeal for seven years now. It is through Martin's efforts that elected officials like Senator Jon Kyle and Representative Chris Cox have taken notice of the destructive nature of this tax and drafted legislation for its repeal. And thanks to Martin's prodding, George Bush also made this an issue in the last campaign.

If Republicans have any guts (which remains to be seen), then this is an issue where they need to draw a line in the sand. There is no reason they shouldn't come out and fight for the repeal of the Death Tax. And there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to enlist the support of some Democrats as well. After all, this is a representative democracy. As we have seen in years past, the dead do tend to vote. Why, then, shouldn't they have their interests represented in the Congress just like everybody else?

Nicholas Sanchez is the Free Congress Foundation's Director of Development.




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