Senate Progressives Finally Push Back Against Lincoln-Kyl Tax Cut For Multimillionaires

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Bob Casey (D-PA)

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Bob Casey (D-PA)

I’ve been complaining that Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) quest to cut the estate tax — spending up to $80 billion to reduce tax bills for the richest of the rich — has suffered from a severe lack of perspective. No one in Congress has been questioning whether the estate tax is, in fact, too low, or whether there are far better things to do with that much money. Fortunately, today, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Bob Casey (D-PA) provided a modicum of reason:

CASEY: I think it would be a big mistake when everyone’s yelling about spending and deficits to let a lot of very wealthy people get off the hook.

SANDERS: The idea that we would make significant exemptions within the estate tax to give more tax breaks to the top three-tenths of 1% is nauseating. I will do everything I can to stop that.

Casey also added that “the idea that we’re going to give an incredible economic advantage to less than 1 percent of our taxpaying population is really offensive to me, to understate it dramatically.”

It’s about time that some lawmakers began to say that spending $80 billion to provide a tax cut to the richest 0.2 percent of households is an absurd waste of money. (62.5 percent of estate tax revenue comes from estates worth more than $20 million.) Objections from Democratic lawmakers, in fact, seem to have scuttled a deal that Lincoln and Kyl had worked out yesterday with the Senate Finance Committee’s chairman and ranking member, Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Of course, Republicans are now complaining about Democrats blowing up whatever agreement was in place yesterday. “We no longer have an agreement, because the Democratic side has decided that unless a matter has a guaranteed majority of Democratic votes going in, they’re not going to allow it on the floor, at least not voluntarily,” said Kyl. “It’s very frustrating because we thought we had a deal,” added Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “We thought we put it together in a way we thought was acceptable, and the Democrats are backing off on resolving it.”

But it’s worth remembering that it was Republicans who, in their zeal to slash the estate tax, scuttled a compromise offered to them in December. At that time, Baucus wanted to permanently set the estate tax at the 2009 level of 45 percent with a $3.5 million exemption (as opposed to letting the law run its course, which has the currently expired tax coming back next year at a 55 percent rate with a $1 million exemption). But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Kyl blocked that move, leaving the current law untouched.

Lincoln today characterized her and Kyl’s cut as a “reasonable compromise.” But it isn’t. It is the furthest right-wing position, short of complete repeal. Accepting a permanent extension at the 2009 level was a compromise (to which the House of Representatives has already agreed). There’s no reason for the Senate to swallow Lincoln-Kyl, simply because they’ve been the loudest voices on this issue.