April 13, 2005, was a dark day for Democrats. As House Republicans gleefully passed legislation to repeal the estate tax permanently, 42 Democrats–about one-fifth of the party’s caucus in the House–went along for the limo ride. It’s true that 160 Democrats did vote against this unjustifiable tax break for the wealthiest of Americans. (Only one GOPer said nay to it.) But the three-and-a-half dozen Democrats who sided with Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay gave ammo to Republicans and their conservative allies in the punditry who were now able to claim the repeal was a bipartisan action that had drawn significant Democratic support. Once again, the Democrats botched an opportunity to signal clearly that there is a sharp difference between Ds and Rs and that the Republicans care more about millionaires than middle- and low-income Americans while Dems do not.
There was no good policy reason for a Democrat to vote to kill the estate tax outright. (Perhaps some of the 42 felt that opposing the estate tax repeal would bring upon them a barrage of ads claiming they support the “death tax.”) Under existing law, the estate tax is scheduled to decrease gradually over the next four years and is then repealed totally in 2010 before returning in full force in 2011. The Republicans came up with this nutty schedule several years ago to keep the cost of their tax cuts within agreed upon budget limits. And they wanted to make Bush’s tax cuts look less expensive than they were. But that was obviously a ruse at the time. The GOPers were not interested in truly being fiscally responsible. And this repeal will add, according to the Tax Policy Center, $270 billion to the national debt in the next decade. It also will only benefit a very small number of taxpayers–perhaps about 30,000. This is a sop for the super-rich. Estates smaller than $1.5 million (or $3 million a couple) are now exempt from the tax. And when the House Democrats offered to raise the exemption to $3.5 million–which would exempt all but the top .3 percent of estates–the Republicans said no. They wanted the deepest-pocketed Americans–that is, the heirs of these people–to have more in their pockets.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the ammo the Democrats should fire at Bolton, DeLay’s recent troubles, Seymour Hersh’s claim there is “no hope for Iraq,” the lame questions newspaper editors tossed at Bush, and the latest on the banned-in Arkansas controversy.