To the House of Lords: Kill the Death Tax

The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to either drive a stake through the heart of the most confiscatory tax ever enacted or to go wobbly and allow this cruel, job-robbing, anti-growth estate tax to live on in infamy.

In the Senate, the high-water mark to repeal was 57-43 but because of the filibuster threat, it takes 60 votes. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is to be commended for resisting the admonition of the “deal makers and the compromisers” who somehow didn’t seem to get the message sent to them by the House, “Kill The Death Tax, Don’t Wound It.” 

As the person credited with popularizing the term “death tax” for the estate tax, I will not be ready to retire until this tax is permanently killed. In my 40-plus years in the nation’s capital, first as a newspaper reporter and now as an activist on behalf of seniors, I’ve seen a lot of taxes come but not many go. This is a tax whose time to go has surely come.

It serves no useful purpose. It’s not a revenue raiser, it’s a revenue loser. It’s not a tax cut for the rich, they don’t pay it. It enriches only lawyers, accountants and insurance brokers.  It’s a hindrance to job expansion. It discourages savings. It encourages consumption. It hurts newly emerging minority owned businesses. Death tax repeal is bi-partisan. The death tax deserves to die.   

To paraphrase Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate economist, “Because of the death tax, there’s little need to save, you may as well spend your money on wine, women and song as to save it.”  Friedman is absolutely right. How disgusting is it that the first claimant in line when a loved one dies is Uncle Sam, not even a blood relative?

To those in the Senate who say the compromise they’re crafting could be lost by  insistence on a vote to repeal, I say to the “House of Lords” please be so kind, so ever benevolent, as to look at what your brethren did in the “House of Commons.”  They passed absolute repeal neither by a razor-thin nor a party line vote but by a whopping 110 vote bi-partisan margin, 272-162, with over 40 Democrats and 7 members of the Congressional Black Caucus voting for outright repeal.  As a matter of fact, caucus member Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) said it best, “I believe the death tax is politically misguided, morally unjustifiable and downright un-American.”

Why in heaven’s name cannot the Senate stop tinkering with this abomination of a tax and simply do the right thing?  Repeal it.

You will not be tagged with “helping the rich” because the so-called rich don’t pay it — they set up trusts and foundations.

And to those cute wordsmiths who call repeal of the death tax the “Paris Hilton Relief Act”, have they never heard of the Hilton Foundation? What an insult to hard working small businesses, and to seniors who have accumulated substantial wealth after a lifetime of hard work and savings.

The 60 Plus Association has contracted for two polls that produced similar results: one by a 77% margin, the other by 73%, both concluding that Americans would be “more likely to vote for their Member of Congress if they voted to eliminate the death tax.” Those polled cited the unfairness of a tax on after-tax assets. The bottom line is voting to repeal this tax is a winner, and it has steamrolled otherwise popular legislators who dared get in the way of its permanent elimination. But don’t believe me…ask former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD).

The 2006 mid-term elections are not far off. Were I in either the House or the Senate, I’d be particularly mindful of being on the wrong side of death tax repeal.

Clear-thinking Americans understand what Professor Edward McCaffery, the self-described “unrequited liberal” who now favors abolition of the tax, has said, “…to most people, death seems like the wrong time to tax.” 

Over the years, in an effort to shame Congress into repealing it, more than 40 names have been suggested for this tax, some of them macabre but succinct. A few: Grave Robber’s Tax, Exit Tax, Cruel Tax, Success Tax, Pine Box Tax, Tombstone Tax, Feet First Tax, Soul Tax, Stiffest Tax of All and the Last Grasp Tax.

Our battle cry at 60 Plus has always been “Dying should not be a taxable event.”