As Congress was mired in a debate about whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy last fall, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) trained his focus on one provision in particular: the estate tax. Because of the Bush tax cuts, the estate tax was pared down during the last decade and eventually phased out in 2010, allowing the wealthiest 0.25% of Americans to pass on their estates tax-free.
With the estate tax was set to return in 2011, King warned that some American multimillionaires would commit suicide rather than have a portion of their estates taxed after they died. King detailed this “threat” in an op-ed:
Some Americans, who want only to provide for their families after their deaths, are actively planning their own death by Dec 31st because living into the New Year will leave their children with no alternative but to sell the farm or business to pay the Death Tax. Other Americans will be gathered around hospital beds with the awful and diabolical decision whether to plug in or unplug a loved one. Even worse, some will decide to remove a loved one from life support at the loved one’s request, only to watch them breathe their last on the first stroke after midnight.
The Sioux City Journal notes that King held an August town hall in which he relayed personal knowledge of an acquaintance who had booked a one-way trip to Switzerland in December 2010 and was planning to arrange a physician-assisted suicide “in order that his estate can pass to his children without tax.”
Yesterday, ThinkProgress spoke with King at the Continuing Revolution tea party rally in Washington, DC about the estate tax, which to King’s displeasure was reestablished this year in the tax compromise (though at a lower rate and higher exemption than in 2009 and before). King conceded that suicides as a result of the estate tax renewal was something that “didn’t happen.” Still, the Iowa Republican remains worried that if the Bush tax cuts aren’t renewed in two years and a slightly higher number of millionaires are subjected to the estate tax, families might have to again decide whether to unplug a loved one on December 31, 2012:
KEYES: I know in the fall you were leading the charge against the reinstatement of the estate tax, saying that you’d spoken with constituents in your district who potentially had to make a heartbreaking decision on whether or not to have to pull the plug on December 31st if this estate tax were to come back in place. Did that end up happening with any of your constituents?
KING: They changed the law. Because the extension of the brackets included a change to the death tax, then no, it didn’t happen. That was one thing that was avoided. [...]
KEYES: Are you worried this could happen again in two years?
KING: Oh yes, absolutely. [...]
KEYES: Do you think families are worried though that they might have to make that heartbreaking decision again in two years?
KING: Yes. They’re worried about that and they’re worried about what happens to these estates if the tax goes up.