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June 8, 2006

Senate rejects estate tax cut

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators voted Thursday to reject a Republican effort to shrink taxes on inherited estates during this election year.

GOP leaders had pushed senators to end the tax once and for all. It disappears in 2010, under President Bush’s first tax cut, but rears up again a year later.

“This death tax is unfair,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

A 57-41 vote fell three votes short of advancing the bill.

Knowing they lacked the votes to eliminate the tax, a small group of senators had hoped to keep the issue alive with an agreement to lift the tax from smaller estates and lessen the hit on larger ones.

Frist gave the negotiators a lift by agreeing to give such a compromise a vote. That didn’t give the tax’s strongest critics enough votes to maneuver the issue around Democratic opponents, however.

“The estate tax is an extremely costly tax for a wealthy few that comes at the expense of every other American born and yet to be born for decades to come,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Frist would still like to deliver a bill to the president reducing the estate tax this summer, before a midterm election where control of Congress is at stake.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he expected the estate tax to find its way into an unrelated bill headed for the president’s desk sometime this year.

Under current law this year, the first $2 million of a person’s estate or $4 million of a couple’s, escapes taxation. The remainder can be taxed at rates up to 46 percent.

According to the most recent statistics available from the Internal Revenue Service, 1.17 percent of people who died in 2002 left a taxable estate.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had been brokering a compromise among Republicans and Democrats interested in paring down the tax and rewriting the quirky law that kills and resurrects the tax.

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