Estate tax? Now?

ESTATE TAX? NOW?…. In the midst of an economic crisis, rising unemployment, a housing crisis, a banking crisis, and questions about enormous budget deficits, leave it to some conservative lawmakers to prioritize tax cuts for millionaires.

[F]or Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, and Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, the most pressing issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now.

The two senators plan to propose an amendment to deeply cut estate taxes for the fraction of the top 1 percent of the population still subject to those levies.

The proverbial millionaires next door — the plumbers, contractors and accountants who amass substantial wealth through hard work and modest living — are not the intended beneficiaries of the proposed cut. The Obama budget already takes care of them, because it retains today’s law, which imposes the estate tax only on couples with property worth more than $7 million, or individuals with property worth more than $3.5 million. That means 99.8 percent of estates will never — ever — pay a penny of estate tax.

The heirs of the remaining 0.2 percent of estates are who Ms. Lincoln and Mr. Kyl are so worried about. Their amendment would increase to $10 million the level at which the estate tax kicks in. It would also lower the top estate-tax rate to 35 percent from 45 percent.

The arguments in support of such a move, which we’ve been hearing for years, are as tiresome as they are false. But what I find striking is the timing. The most common complaint of late from Republicans and conservative Democrats is about deficits. Why, then, would lawmakers even consider a tax cut for the wealthiest of the wealthy, costing a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade?

The analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is fairly devastating. The proposal an absurd proposal under any circumstances, but it’s especially misguided under the current economic conditions.

And in case you’re wondering why Arkansas’ Sen. Lincoln, ostensibly a Democrat, would join with Republicans on this, Faiz Shakir has the answer: “The Waltons — the Arkansas-based family that founded Wal-Mart — are one of the key groups financing the campaign to repeal the estate tax.”

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