We Saved The Estate Tax

Bill Scher

Congress passed the budget resolution for 2010 yesterday. The biggest progressive policy victory has already been well reported: the ability for Congress to use budget rules to pass health care reform and direct student lending with a simple majority vote in the Senate. And even though I lamented the fact that Congress flinched from doing the same for climate protection legislation, the budget still includes billions in investments for clean energy and energy-efficiency.

But one other progressive victory in this budget has not been well-reported. We beat back the Senate attempt to cut the estate tax on the superrich.

Earlier this month, 10 Democrats joined the Republican caucus to squeeze through an amendment raising the amount of inheritances completely exempt from the estate tax, up to $10M. And it cut the estate tax rate above $10M from 45% to 35%.

It was an unconscionable giveaway to the wealthiest in the midst of recession, smacking of hypocrisy from the biggest whiners about the budget deficit. USA Today’s editorial board summed it up: “The move to cut the estate tax is a mind-boggling testament to some lawmakers’ lack of seriousness about fiscal responsibility, not to mention their solicitude toward moneyed interests and donors. … they demolish their credibility when they consider cutting a tax that brings in a much-needed $20 billion a year, one paid by the most affluent sliver of American society.”

Two weeks ago, Campaign for America’s Future urged supporters to contact the Senate and demand they reverse that vote. Yesterday, 8 Democrats did when they voted for the budget that maintained the current level of the estate tax: Max Baucus (D-MT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT).

While there’s is much left to do to achieve truly progressive tax reform, we should take pride that we successfully held the line. And we should recognize that with this budget victory, we have taken another step in turning the ship of government around towards a bright progressive future, and keep on fighting until we get there.

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