The Public Policy

D-Day for the Death Tax

In a few days, America's most notorious tax could bite the dust.

By 9.1.05

Next Tuesday is D-Day. The Senate will vote on doing what the House has long since done: end the death tax, the most obscene tax in America. And we may -- just may -- have the votes to win.

Since its enactment in 1916, the death tax has actually cost more jobs and destroyed more small businesses and family farms than it's raised in government revenue. That's no accident. death tax proponents never meant their handiwork to raise real money; the levy was, from its very beginning, intended as a means of income redistribution, "of taking from the rich to give to the poor." It was pure socialism from day one, a key plank of both the Socialist and Communist Party platforms, and utterly anti-family at its core.

But the joke was on the suckers who believed the left's "fairness" drivel. Even if it were okay to steal from the rich, even if it were more virtuous somehow to take their life's painstaking work and give it to the government instead of their children and grandchildren, it was never the rich who suffered.

Rich folks, you see, can afford the armies of accountants and tax lawyers needed to avoid the tax. They can hide their money in trusts, in foundations, in offshore accounts, all both legal and reasonable. They aren't fools; and unlike the rest of us, they have the means to avoid getting mugged.

Not so for the little guy, though, the families just beginning to get ahead. And it's that rising class, threatening their "betters," that the tax has always stalked.

According to a December 1998 U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Report, the death tax is indeed a leading culprit in family farm and business failure. In one survey, nearly one-third of black business owners say their heirs will have to sell their business just to pay the death tax, while over 80% say they lack the assets to pay. The alleged party of "civil rights" is in the business of snuffing their dreams.

In 1995 alone, 89% of all taxable estates had $2.5 million or less -- easily accumulated just in a couple's IRAs and 401(k)s without ever constituting "wealth" -- and 54% of all death taxes paid came from net taxable estates of $5 million or less. That's the very Mom-and-Pop corner grocery, or the third generation family farm, that wealthy Democrats pretend to care about when trial lawyer John Edwards talks about "two Americas." He fails to mention that he's the one keeping the poorer, frequently blacker America "in its place."

Even Russia knows better. In June, Russia abolished its death tax. The land of the proletarian revolution itself, where any and all accumulation of wealth was abolished 80 years ago in a hail of bullets and blood, has finally left the totalitarian twentieth century behind. Acting on President Vladimir Putin's April proposal, the State Duma voted 414-2 not only to end the confiscatory taxation of inheritances, but also the tax on gifts to close relatives, something else more "enlightened" Americans have not quite managed to do.

It's not for lack of trying. Four months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 272-162 to put the death tax to rest once and for all. As well they should have: over 89% of Americans agree that it's unfair to tax incomes and then tax that same money posthumously; and 96% of manufacturing firms feel the death tax threatens their long-term growth.

It's time for the Senate to follow the House's lead: Americans well deserve what Steve Forbes and Larry Kudlow call "No Taxation Without Respiration."

So do yourself and your country a favor: call your Senator, and tell him you mean business, that you'll accept no compromises, that the death tax really must go.

Better yet, call one of the fence-sitters who can't quite make up their minds: they hold the balance of power (and there's a list of them -- and their phone numbers -- online at Tell them about Russia. Tell them about the additional 175,000 jobs per year that repealing the death tax will create, and the countless thousands of small businesses, family farms, and yes, local jobs which will be destroyed if they "compromise" or fail to act.

Tell them you're watching. Tell them you're mad. But whatever you do, don't take this vote for granted. It still has to be won. And the outcome is very much in our hands.

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About the Author

Rod D. Martin is founder and chairman of Vanguard PAC. A former policy director to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Special Counsel to Founder Peter Thiel, he is a member of the Board of Governors of the Council for National Policy, a Vice President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies (NFRA), and editor and co-author of Thank You President Bush, the definitive handbook to the second term.