presents The Angry Liberal
Estate Tax Repeal: Republicans Fight for an American Aristocracy
May 7, 2002
If there were ever any doubt in your minds that Republicans legislate for the rich and powerful at America's expense, let it forever be cast out. America is facing a budget deficit of over $100 billion this year. Senior citizens are having to choose between prescription drugs and food this year. More than 38 million Americans are without health insurance this year. Social Security taxpayers are watching George W. Bush give their surplus tax money to his rich friends this year. And which of these national disgraces does Republican Senator Phil Gramm wish to remedy? Why, none of them, of course. Instead, he is leading the charge to see that billionaires - the group that benefited the most under last year's tax surplus giveaway - get to keep more of their money. After they die. Beginning after 2010. And he was willing to hold up the Senate's energy bill to accomplish his disgraceful mission.
With so many urgent needs in America today, why are George W. Bush, Gramm and Republicans in Congress so worried about the problems billionaires may or may not have with their estates after 2010? Good question. For starters, the estate tax, or "death tax," as Republicans like to call it, only applies to estates worth over a million bucks, or $2 million for a couple. In addition, a spouse will inherit with no tax penalty at all. In other words, none but the richest Americans will ever need to worry about this tax at all. Despite this, the prospect of billionaires handing over some of their estate to Uncle Sam after they die seems to keep Bush and Senator (and suspected "old man heckler" Muppet) Gramm up at night. Gramm was so worried that America's richest folks wouldn't be able to take it with them that he held up the energy bill until Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle agreed to schedule a vote for a permanent repeal of the estate tax. It takes real courage to stand up for the rich and powerful like that.
Let's stomp the two big arguments of the estate tax repeal fans into the ground one at a time, shall we?
1. "The estate tax hurts farmers and small business owners."
First of all, only the richest 3% of America's family farmers will pay any estate tax under current law. Besides, if creeps like Gramm are really worried about family farmers and owners of small businesses, why don't they write a bill excluding those two groups - and only those two groups - from paying estate tax? Simple. Republicans don't give a damn about farmers and are, at best, fair-weather friends of small business owners. They only use these two groups as an excuse to write legislation principally benefiting millionaires and billionaires. A clear case-in-point is the $1 billion Republicans removed from last year's farm bill. Although quite a few Republicans changed their tunes during the recent election-year farm bill vote, you saw their true colors last year.
2. "The property of Americans should remain in the hands of their families after they die."
I'm going to spend some time on this one. First of all, America currently has a national debt of over $6 trillion. Interest on the debt alone consumes 15 cents of every tax dollar paid. In other words, if the United States government had actually collected taxes at a rate to match expenditures every year, we could have a 15% across-the-board tax cut today without seeing a single cut in government outlays. Instead, Bush is giving us a permanent tax increase every time he borrows more money to run the government. Although that enormous debt is owed by every American, it is clear that as Bush cuts taxes for the rich, those folks will pay a smaller and smaller share of America's taxes. If our government is unwilling to collect enough revenue to run itself, can't we at least ask that those who benefited by tax cuts while they were alive clear up their portion of the government's debt when they die? Of course we can. If we ever elect a government with some cajones, anyway.
What would be the easiest and least painful way to make this debt disappear? Simple. Get the money from people who don't need it. Can we all agree that most people don't have much use for their money after they're dead? Good. Next, can we agree that a spouse should get his/her deceased spouse's estate untaxed? Sure. This is current law, by the way.
Okay, now let's discuss the kids. Ask a Republican why welfare recipients should work, and you're likely to get a version of following answer: Because welfare folks are lazy and work is good and it gives the lazy guy self-respect and dignity and a sense of accomplishment, blah, blah, blah. Now ask this question to your conservative moron brother-in-law the next time you see him: If work provides all of these wonderful benefits to the poor, why doesn't work provide the same benefits to the children of the super-rich? Don't you think that Bill Gates' kids would benefit as human beings if they were required to accomplish something on their own when they grow up? Gates himself believes this and is planning to hand his estate over to the Gates Foundation instead of giving it to his kids. Is not life the process of discovering and developing one's talents and abilities? Aren't responsibility and self-reliance good life lessons for the idle rich as well as the idle poor? You bet they are.
Just for the record, here's the Angry Liberal's formula for determining a fair estate tax system: Regardless of how much money Dad had when he cashed in, each kid would get enough scratch to live a comfortable middle-class existence without ever having to lift a finger. They are welcome to be as lazy as they want and still be able to send their kids to college and drive a minivan with a U.S. flag sticking out of the window. To this end, an income of, say $80,000 per year in today's dollars should suffice. Based on a conservative 5% annual return on investment income, and allowing for 3% to be reinvested to keep up with inflation, I would estimate a lump sum of $4 million per heir would be the maximum allowed inheritance under my system this year.
Now, before anybody passes out, a lot of safeguards could be built into this system. It could be adjusted for inflation every year. We could exclude some family farmers and others who would otherwise have to break up a small business. The point is that those huge piles of cash otherwise transferred to the children of billionaires could actually do some good for the country by paying down the debt and providing for defense, promoting the general welfare, and all the other governmental functions. The smartest and most able of the billionaire offspring could earn their own fortunes (ask a real entrepreneur sometime if a $4 million stake would have helped when she started her company in her garage). The lazy or stupid heirs could still live very comfortably without having to ever fend for themselves. Decent Americans should expect nothing more out of life. And the biggest bonus of all is as follows: If billionaires know that their offspring might just wind up as members of the (gulp!) middle class, then said billionaires might actually begin to take some interest in middle class issues. Maybe a second yacht isn't as important as American's senior citizens receiving their medication and eating at the same time.
The Republicans, however, seem to prefer an American aristocracy to a system in which the most talented and ambitious prosper. And why wouldn't they? They are the party of this aristocracy. The rich invest in Republicans to be sure that they can stay rich while contributing as little as possible to the economy or society. Their investment in the GOP is a pittance compared to the benefits that Republicans heap upon them, but compared to the contributions Democrats manage to collect, it's a cash avalanche. It is quite fitting that George W. Bush should be the point man for the aristocracy. There is nobody in America who represents this undeserving elite better than he. Money and influence took a hopelessly average goof-off and transformed him into the President of the United States. No wonder the inheritance tax issue so completely holds Bush's limited attention span.
Finally, for the "religious conservatives" out there (an oxymoron, if ever one existed), I give you my favorite quotes from the Bible:
Sorry about the repetition, but in case anybody was worried about the quote's accuracy, you have three sources in front of you. I wonder if Bush and his rich supporters plan on going to Heaven? It turns out that despite protecting blobs of cells at the expense of women and hating homosexuals, Jesus said they don't get to go. That's right, folks, the Angry Liberal's inheritance tax plan will not only save the United States, it also may save some souls. And now knowing the truth about money and salvation, those Republicans who continue to covet their cash even after they die may henceforth be known as "The Damned Right." You heard it here first.
In short, God has a special place for those who wish to keep their fortunes and Republicans who help them. It's called Hell. By doing everything in their power to make it easier for the rich to get richer, Bush, Gramm, and company certainly have reservations on the Damnation Express. First class, no doubt.
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© 2002, The Angry Liberal
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