Published April 01, 2009
For those dying to take advantage of next year's zero percent federal "death tax," they may want to kill those plans.
President Obama's budget keeps the estate tax at its 2009 level, which means the government gets 45 percent of a dead person's estate valued over $3.5 million dollars or $7 million for a couple.
Republicans argue this tax doesn't just strike the wealthy.
"It destroys a lot of small businesses and a lot of family farms and ranches in America," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
"People who aren't wealthy, who may have built up value in land over generations and many family farms find themselves in situations where they've got to sell the farm in order the pay the taxes," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
In 2001 and 2003, Republicans helped push through President Bush's tax cuts that lowered the estate tax from 55 percent to 45 percent this year and would have eliminated them next year.
Democrats contend that keeping the tax rate at 45 percent in 2010 is still a break from the 55 percent and insist the federal coffers would take too much of a hit if Congress completely repealed the tax.
"The total repeal would have a substantial additional impact on revenues," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C. "And this is also a time when we need to -- we simply can't be profligate about tax cuts. And we think we struck a good balance."
Yet Obama's own top economic advisor, Larry Summers, took an interesting position on the passage of wealth from one generation to the next.
"The evidence presented indicates that intergenerational transfers account for the vast majority of aggregate U.S. capital formation," he wrote in a study that he co-authored in 1980.
If the estate tax is renewed next year, economists say small businesses need to plan ahead.
"By and large, the death tax is borne by people who own small businesses, who haven't had the benefit of big corporate lawyers and big corporate accounting offices to prepare them for paying this tax," said William Beach, a senior fellow in economics at the Heritage Foundation.
Ensign said he wants a zero percent death tax but since Republicans are in the minority, they're offering a counter proposal: zero percent if your wealth is under $5 million dollars and between 15 to 35 percent for any amount over that.