- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Senate Republicans couldn't muster enough votes yesterday to permanently repeal the estate tax, leaving last year's deal, which phases out the tax by 2010 but reimposes it completely in 2011, on the books.

The 54-44 vote for repeal was short of the 60 votes needed to overcome budget rules and make it permanent. It and the other provisions of President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut passed last year will expire in 2011, and Republicans are trying to make those cuts permanent.

"If it's wrong to tax people because they die, it's wrong to tax people because they die at whatever amount of income they have. And it's an artificial distinction to say that people who are one dollar on one side of the line should suffer the burden of an unfair tax that is imposed simply by virtue of the fact that someone is dead," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday before the vote.

But Democrats said the estate tax now applies to only 2 percent of estates, and by 2010 would apply only to 0.5 percent of estates.

"You know who they're protecting here? It isn't a farmer, it isn't a business person, it isn't a person who has done pretty well in life it is the super rich," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who painted a picture of billionaires sending lobbyists "in their Gucci shoes and their fine-tailored suits" to the Capitol to secure a tax break.

But Republicans said the very wealthy pay lawyers to help them avoid paying the tax.

Those who really pay the price, they said, were the family farms and businesses that must spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on insurance and estate planning or whose heirs are forced to sell the businesses or farms to pay the taxes.

Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, who is retiring this year and wants to see the tax eliminated before the end of his term, promised to bring his measure up again and hopes for better success because the budget rules requiring 60 votes on bills like this one expire on Oct. 1.

Eight Democrats joined 46 Republicans in supporting Mr. Gramm's version, while two Republicans joined the chamber's lone independent and 41 Democrats in opposing it. Last week the House passed the same measure 256-171.

Yesterday's vote promises to figure in some senators' re-election campaigns, Mr. Gramm said: "We believe there will be a referendum on the death tax on Election Day in November."

Republicans pointed in particular to Sen. Jean Carnahan, Missouri Democrat, who voted against the Republican version, as someone who might be vulnerable on the issue.

Mrs. Carnahan instead supported an alternative sponsored by a handful of Democrats that would have raised the minimum value for estates subject to the tax to $4 million for an individual or $8 million for a married couple.

"Senator Gramm's amendment will permanently eliminate the estate tax for multibillionaires. I do not believe this is good policy," she said.

But that Democratic measure failed 44-54.

Americans for a Fair Estate Tax, a group opposing the Republican-backed plan, released poll numbers yesterday showing that more Americans favor reforming the estate tax than those who support total repeal. The poll also showed the estate-tax cut ranks at the bottom of a list of five tax cuts Americans would like to see enacted.

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