- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

Democrats on Capitol Hill say Republicans have “hijacked” one of their signature issues in an effort to ram through a repeal of the estate tax this week.

“It’s political blackmail, and it reeks of desperation,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday of the House deal that links passage of the “death tax” with a minimum-wage increase.

“Republicans can’t pass a partial repeal of the estate tax on its own merits so they’re holding the minimum wage hostage to do it.”

But Republicans say it’s all in the spirit of political compromise.

“Republicans are moving to help small businesses and family farms by eliminating the death tax,” said Amy Call, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

“Democrats want to raise the minimum wage, and this is their opportunity to do that,” she added. “I’m not sure what’s so evil about that.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, called the proposal a “shameful gimmick” and said a stand-alone bill to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 and hour — the first increase in nine years — would easily pass the Senate.

“The special interests they serve cannot let that happen,” he said yesterday. “Instead of allowing an honest vote on the minimum wage, they’ve hijacked our bill and attached the ultimate poison pill — hundreds of billions of dollars in tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans.”

A permanent reduction of the estate tax is hardly a “tax giveaway” to millionaires, Republicans say. It’s a matter of principle that death is not a taxable event and that the federal government shouldn’t take someone’s earnings that have already been taxed at least once.

All that’s not to say Republicans don’t enjoy watching Democrats choose between swallowing a tax cut or killing their prized minimum-wage increase.

“The more they scream, the harder we know the vote will be for them,” chuckled one Republican staffer.

Observed another: “Voters in Michigan, New Jersey, West Virginia, Washington and other states must be scratching their heads right now wondering why their candidates campaign on a minimum-wage increase one day, then argue against it the next.”

In a speech yesterday before the Center for American Progress think tank, Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the estate-tax fight is a “cheap political trick” that would add nearly $800 billion to the national debt.

“It’s an unbelievable, partisan ploy,” said Mr. Reid, who predicted the measure will fail this week. “They’re threatening to deny a $2.10 raise for 11 million Americans if they can’t give away billions to 12,000 of their wealthiest friends.”

The minority leader also said Republicans have tried to distract voters with social issues that divide the country, including flag burning and defining traditional marriage.

“Republicans call this their ‘American Values Agenda.’ There’s just one problem with it: It doesn’t value Americans,” he said. “There’s not a single proposal there to address families’ everyday problems.”

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