Friday, June 23, 2006

A Look at Republican Priorities: Comforting the Comfortable

NYT Editorial

Two weeks ago, the Senate killed an effort to repeal the federal estate tax on multimillion-dollar fortunes. The "no" votes were a stand for budget sanity and basic fairness. But the pro-repeal camp doesn't want to take no for an answer.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed an estate-tax cut that is a repeal in everything but name. The so-called compromise would exempt more than 99.5 percent of estates from tax, slash the tax rates on the rest and cost at least $760 billion during its first full decade. Of that, $600 billion is the amount the government would have to borrow to make up for lost revenue from the cuts, which would benefit the heirs of America's wealthiest families, like the Marses of Mars bar and the Waltons of Wal-Mart Stores. The remaining $160 billion is the interest on that borrowing, which would be paid by all Americans.

No lawmaker who voted for the compromise gets any points for moderation. Like the earlier full repeal bill, this one is unfair and grounded in intellectual dishonesty. The goal is not to pass good legislation, but to get this top priority for big-shot constituents nailed into law before the November elections produce a legislature that's more responsible on fiscal matters.

In an attempt to rally support, House lawmakers have included in the bill another, totally unrelated, tax cut — for timber companies, worth $900 million over the next three years. The measure, based on the theory that American timber companies are at a disadvantage in the global marketplace, is essentially a special-interest giveaway that would encourage every business with international competitors to demand its own tax break. There is much to reform on the competitiveness front, but it should be done comprehensively, not on the basis of who has the senators best positioned to carve out a special deal.

The timber provision is a blatant attempt to extort "yes" votes out of four Democratic senators who have supported the timber industry in the past, but who have opposed estate-tax repeal: Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both of Washington, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The idea is that if a few Democratic opponents can be enticed to vote for the estate-tax cuts, Republicans who have previously broken with their party over the issue might also go along, notably Senators George Voinovich of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

All this effort for a bill that would put $760 billion in new debt on the backs of Americans in the name of making a handful of extremely rich people even richer. Congressional leaders may know how to count votes, but otherwise their math is pathetic.

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