The federal estate tax is currently “in limbo,” as congressional negotiations have bogged down and created a situation in which the tax isn’t in effect at all this year. If no action is taken, it will return next year at a rate of 55 percent (up from 45 percent) and exempt no more than $1 million of a person’s estate (congressional negotiators are trying to devise a different arrangement).
Capitalizing on this current state of this estate tax, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) wildly claimed during a news conference Friday that some of her “constituents are so worried about the reinstatement” of the tax that they are actually planning to discontinue “life-extending medical treatments” so that they die before the tax is reinstate on January 1, 2011. “If you have spent your whole life building a ranch, and you wanted to pass your estate on to your children, and you were 88-years-old and on dialysis, and the only thing that was keeping you alive was that dialysis, you might make that same decision,” she told reporters:
U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis said Friday that some of her Wyoming constituents are so worried about the reinstatement of federal estate taxes that they plan to discontinue dialysis and other life-extending medical treatments so they can die before Dec. 31.
Speaking at a news conference she called to discuss the creation of new jobs in Wyoming, Lummis declined to name any of the people who have made the comments about preferring death to a tax increase. The Republican is running for a second term as the state’s lone voice in the U.S. House.
Lummis said many ranchers and farmers in the state would rather pass along their businesses — “their life’s work” — to their children and grandchildren than see the federal government take a large chunk. “If you have spent your whole life building a ranch, and you wanted to pass your estate on to your children, and you were 88-years-old and on dialysis, and the only thing that was keeping you alive was that dialysis, you might make that same decision,” Lummis told reporters.
While Lummis is irresponsibly warning of the estate tax spawning mass suicides, it’s important to remember how few Americans the tax actually even applies to. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “only the largest 1 in 500 hundred estates pay any tax; that is, 99.8 percent of estates are passed on completely tax-free.” Given that “In 2006–8 the Wyoming the inflation adjusted per capita income was just over $27,873,” it is unlikely that many of Lummis’s constituents at all are likely to ever have to pay the estate tax. Citizens for Tax Justice “estimated that under the 2004 rules (when the exemption was only $1.5 million) only 62 Wyoming estates of any kind owed tax.”
But if Lummis is really concerned that working-class Wyomians who spent their lives building ranches are threatened by the estate tax, she could champion the proposal by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would enact a special “billionaires’ surtax” on the estates of the super-rich and exempt estate values below $3.5 million from the tax altogether. As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo writes, the proposal would be “a good way to raise revenue with exceedingly minimal impact on the wider economy.”