This vote was on an amendment by Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that would provide estate tax relief. It was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2008. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
Specifically, Kyl’s amendment would reduce the estate tax rate from 46 percent to 35 percent, along with language that would provide individual exemptions of $5 million per spouse.
The estate tax is the tax charged on property that’s willed to someone upon their death (hence why Republicans often refer to the tax as the “death tax.”) Easing or repealing the estate tax has been a priority for anti-tax conservatives for some time. Republicans argue that the estate tax hampers small businesses and family farmers; they also say the estate tax amounts to “double taxation.”
“This amendment is endorsed by small business groups such as the NFIB and by other pro-estate tax reform groups. I hope my colleagues will agree it is a way to send a very strong signal through the budget process that we are serious about reforming the estate tax this year,” Kyl said.
Democrats counter that attempts to repeal or ease the estate tax are mainly for those who are already wealthy, since the tax affects a relatively small number of people. In order to be subject to an estate tax, the estate being willed must exceed a total taxable value of $1 million – according to the Internal Revenue Service, only 2 percent of estates are subject to the estate tax.
“At the end of the day, it does not hold up to the principle of fiscal responsibility. All that the amendment of my friend will do is continue to make the mountain of debt bigger and bigger. It is a mountain of debt that is already at $10 trillion and going beyond,” said Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
The amendment was rejected on a tie vote of 50-50. Tiebreaking votes may be cast by President Dick Cheney in his role as president pro tempore of the Senate, but he was not in the chamber for this vote and so it was considered defeated. All but one Republican present voted for the amendment (George Voinovich of Ohio). All but two Democrats present voted against the amendment (Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas). The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have eased the estate tax.