- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Republicans set up a public confrontation with the White House yesterday by sending a bill to repeal estate and gift taxes to President Clinton, who has vowed to veto the measure.
The Senate's oldest member, Strom Thurmond, 97, South Carolina Republican, set the stage for a pre-election veto by signing the party's centerpiece measure during a brief Capitol Hill ceremony.
"Mr. President, don't veto this bill," Mr. Thurmond said as he shook his fists in the air.
The president made clear he would not listen to Mr. Thurmond.
"This is a bill that's too expensive, that explodes in costs at a time when we can least afford it," White House spokesman Jake Siewart said. "I don't think you should have any illusions about what the president's going to do."
Getting the bill dubbed the "death tax" to the White House involved a bit of theater. To drive home their message that the Republican-backed bill eliminates a tax that hurts farmers and owners of small businesses, Montana rancher Lynn Cornwell drove a farm tractor through busy Washington streets to deliver the bill to the White House.
"I haven't seen the tractor pull up, but I don't think we'll waste a lot of time thinking about it," Mr. Siewert told reporters.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert highlighted the proposed tax cut during an appearance at a Columbia, S.C., farmer's market.
"This unfair tax is so steep that sometimes the deceased owner's children must break up a farm or sell a business just to cover the tax," said Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican. "Your children should not have to sell what you worked your whole life to produce."
Democrats say only 2 percent of all estates owe taxes and that the majority of those taxes are due on stocks, bonds and real estate.
"Just like with the Republican convention, they prove they can put on a good show, but their reality is very different," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.
"If Republicans were being honest about the beneficiaries of their estate tax break, it would have been delivered by Donald Trump in a stretch limo, not a farmer on a tractor," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt.
"This legislation is a huge gift for the wealthiest 2 percent of estate owners and offers almost no tax relief for the middle class," the Missouri Democrat said.
Nonetheless, many Democrats agree with Republicans that the measure places an undue burden on family-owned farms and small businesses. Even if no or few taxes are paid, the cost in time and effort to prepare for the possibility is a massive drain on the economy, they argue.
"We hope the president will sign this long-overdue repeal of the death tax, which snatches a lifetime of labor away from widows and children who inherit family farms," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
"It is simply wrong for government to steal the legacy parents work a lifetime to build for their children," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.
"The death tax is the wrecking ball of a life's worth of achievements and success," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer of Texas said in a statement. "The American people want this horrible tax buried for once and for all."
The measure passed 279-136 in the House on June 9 and 59-39 in the Senate on July 15, but Mr. Clinton already has said he would veto the measure.
"If the president snubs hard-working Americans and vetoes this bill, we will vote to override his veto," Mr. Armey said.
A poll taken last month by Gallup showed that 60 percent of Americans favored a "proposal that would eliminate all inheritance taxes on estates over $1 million," while 35 percent said they opposed it.
"Our nation has been built on the notion that anyone who works hard has the opportunity to succeed and create wealth," said Sen. William V. Roth Jr., Delaware Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"The estate and gift taxes are a disincentive to succeed and should be eliminated," Mr. Roth said.
In July, Republicans considered sending the measure immediately to the president and forcing him to sign or veto the bill before the Republican National Convention. They held the bill, though, when they realized Mr. Clinton could veto the estate-tax repeal and legislation giving tax breaks to married couples at the same time, thus "muddling" their message.
Republicans sent the marriage tax relief bill instead to the White House, with two staff members dressed as a bride and groom in a car festooned with streamers and tin cans.
Mr. Clinton vetoed that bill, and will have until Sept. 5 the day the House returns from a monthlong recess to sign or veto the estate tax bill.
The inheritance tax is due on estate assets worth more than $10,000 at rates beginning at 18 percent. Taxes reach a peak marginal rate of 55 percent on assets worth more than $3 million. But with a substantial estate-tax credit, no taxes are due on individual estates worth less than $675,000, and none is due on a married couple's estate, with some estate planning, worth less than $1.3 million.
The Republican bill, over the next 10 years, would phase out the entire estate tax. On the other hand, beneficiaries no longer would be forgiven capital gains earned up to the time of their benefactor's death as under current law. To mimic the benefits of the estate-tax credit, however, estates would get a step-up in basis for capital gains purposes on up to $5.6 million in assets.

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