The GOP’s Gimmicks-R-Us Shoppe this week: repeal the ‘death tax’

Tax day on April 15 is this week, and you know what that means: the GOP’s Gimmicks-R-Us Shoppe has an entire week of anti-tax gimmicks planned for their annual “taxed enough already” TEA Party insanity. God, I hate this week.

Here is an oldie but goodie: shedding crocodile tears for privileged Plutocrats who make their money the old-fashioned way — they inherit it. GOP wordsmiths like Frank Luntz have turned the innocuous estate tax into something nefarious sounding: Abolish the ‘death tax,’ say Senate Republicans.


The Senate during its “vote-a-rama” last month approved an amendment to the Senate GOP budget which supports the repeal of the estate tax. ‘Death tax’ repeal approved:

The amendment, offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), aims to repeal the estate tax, sometimes referred to as the “death tax.” Under the tax, an estate, or assets, have to be worth more than $5.43 million before they are taxed.

Senators voted 54-46 on the amendment. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke rank and voted against the amendment, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted for it.

The House will vote on repealing the estate tax this week. POLITICO Morning Tax.

Which just goes to show that Dick Cheney was right: “deficits don’t matter” to Republicans when the reason is giving more tax cuts to their privileged Plutocrat masters. GOP estate tax repeal would add $269B to deficits, CBO says:

Republican legislation in the House to repeal the federal estate tax would add nearly $270 billion to federal deficits, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The office projects the legislation offered by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) would result in revenue losses starting in 2016. The CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation produced the score.

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill in late March, which would amend the tax code to repeal the tax that applies to estates of the deceased. It would also repeal a generation-skipping transfer tax and lower the top marginal gift tax rate from 40 percent to 35 percent.

Under the estate tax, which has a top rate of 40 percent, individuals are exempt if their assets total less than $5.43 million. For married couples, the threshold for avoiding the tax is $10.86 million.

In other words, neither you nor I will ever owe an estate tax. This is a tax boogeyman the GOP trots out during tax week that potentially only affects the top two-tenths of one percent of wealthy Plutocrats — and only for those whose attorneys have not devised an elaborate tax avoidance scheme.

As Robert Borosage at the Huffington Post reports, The Republican Congress Votes for Dynasty Over Democracy:

monopolybNext week as Congress returns, House Republicans will address what they consider one of the nation’s most pressing problems: relieving the tax burdens on multimillionaires — not the 1 percent but the wealthiest 0.2 percent, two of 1000 — by eliminating the estate tax. Its repeal will cost $269 billion over 10 years, but Republicans find the cause so compelling that they would add that sum to our deficits rather than struggle with “paying” for it.

The bill, of course, has no chance of becoming law. If necessary, the president will veto it. It is a message bill. Conservatives love to rail against what they have been taught to call the death tax. Republicans want voters — or more importantly billionaire donors — to know that, even with inequality at record extremes, with the wealthiest 0.1 percent of families possessing as much wealth as 90 percent of American families, [Republicans] are on the case, standing strong to defend the inheritances of the sons and daughters of the privileged few.

Of course, they don’t actually put it that way. Instead they offer much hokum about small business owners and family farmers. But these yarns have long ago been exposed as fraudulent. No one has ever been able to point to a family farm that was sacrificed to the estate tax (although hopefully, the country estates of Wall Street lawyers who keep a few cows for tax write offs and decoration do get touched).

In fact, the estate tax doesn’t touch anyone but the very wealthiest American families.

* * *

The estate tax now is levied solely on fortunes over $10.9 million for a couple or $5.4 million for an individual. It’s a graduated tax, with the average effective rate of 16 percent. Families this wealthy hire accountants to help them shelter much of their fortunes from its reach. And since more than half of the money in estates over $100 million consists of capital gains that have never been taxed at all, it’s only sensible that the very wealthy pay something before the fortunes are passed on to their heirs.

When did conservatives become committed to protecting dynastic fortunes? No free market principle favors lavishing millions on the heirs — idle or otherwise — of the wealthy. If there was one thing the Republic’s Founders agreed on, it was the dangers of inherited wealth to democracy. Jefferson invoked conservative icon Adam Smith, who wrote:

“A power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly absurd. The earth and the fulness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural.” Smith said: “There is no point more difficult to account for than the right we conceive men to have to dispose of their goods after death.”

Republican Teddy Roosevelt stumped for a “graduated inheritance tax increasing rapidly with the size of the estate.”

Democracy does not fare well with extreme inequality and dynastic wealth. As the great Supreme Court Louis Brandeis famously warned: “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The same Republican Congress that will vote this tax break for multi-million dynasties just passed a budget that calls for slashing $5 trillion in investments in education, Pell grants, environmental protection, Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps and other programs for the most vulnerable over 10 years. They think it more important to lard the estates of the few than to invest in areas vital to our future.

* * *

Conservatives will vote to eliminate this tax on the estates of the very wealthy after deciding to allow supplements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit to expire, causing more than 13 million lower wage working families — including 25 million children — to lose an average of $1,073 a year. Family values? Turns out it is only a certain class of families that they value.

It’s easy to mock this, but it isn’t funny. America suffers the most extreme inequality of any advanced industrialized country. One family — the Waltons — possesses as much wealth as 40 percent of all Americans. The International Monetary Fund, hardly a radical bastion, reports that extreme inequality destabilizes economies. As a result of extreme inequality, the U.S. — the land of opportunity — has less economic mobility than most other industrial nations. Worse, extreme inequality cripples societies, leaving people scarred from worse health, shorter life expectancy, greater poverty, more chronic illness, and more violence. America is no exception.

The Gilded Age inequality that we suffer isn’t inevitable. It reflects a set of policy choices that have rigged the rules to favor the very few. The top 1 percent have captured 95 percent of the nation’s income growth coming out of the Great Recession. That doesn’t happen unless the deck is stacked.

And of course, with conservatives on the Supreme Court overturning limits on money in politics, big money increasingly corrupts our democracy, and insures that the rules stay rigged. Consider the Republican vote a fund-raising appeal to the very wealthy.

What any sensible Congress should be doing — and what any sensible elite would be demanding — is making the tax code more, not less progressive. Estate taxes should be higher; the various loopholes and dodges to escape them should be eliminated. The wealthy should be encouraged to donate their fortunes to the charities of their choice, and limited in buying and selling candidates of their choice. Dynastic wealth is simply incompatible with a democracy.

President Obama has described inequality as the “defining issue of our time.” Jeb Bush echoes that the “opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time.” Even Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio decry how unequal Americans have become.

But Republicans in the House — the most conservative caucus since the 1920s — clearly disagree. They believe that a pressing issue of our time is that the very wealthiest of Americans, not the top 1 percent but the top 0.2 percent — are oppressed by modest taxes on their estates. And they are acting to put a stop to that. This is not only not risible, it is outright indecent.

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4 thoughts on “The GOP’s Gimmicks-R-Us Shoppe this week: repeal the ‘death tax’”

  1. “In other words, neither you nor I will ever owe an estate tax.”

    And that makes it a good tax because only the much envied rich will be hurt by it. It’s a win-win scenario…the rich are punished and the rest of us feel better.

  2. One of the great disappointments of 2010 was when Democrats when AWOL over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. The estate tax actually did expire in 2010. Families of people like George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010 with an estate of several billion, can thank the Democrats for their weakness.
    And by leaving the tax cut debate to Obama and the Republicans in Congress, we are now stuck with an estate tax of 40% and higher exemptions, than the 55% rate under Bill Clinton.
    The Progressive Caucus is finally talking about tiered estate tax rates. That makes lots of sense. There is a big difference between someone with ten or fifteen million and the mega rich with billions. Perhaps stay at 40% for the first $50 million or so, then ramp up to 60% for billion dollar estates.

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