One of the essential elements of the Bush administration's agenda is to make the rich richer by robbing the federal treasury of traditional sources of revenue. This scheme to redistribute the nation's wealth upward is best illustrated by the White House's determined push to eliminate the estate tax.
America, a country founded in revolt against inherited power and wealth, has always been uncomfortable with the notion of an aristocracy that hands off the whole of its wealth, prominence and power from one generation to the next. In consideration of all the advantages that go with being raised in privilege, the theory has gone, it is not too much to ask that the heirs of the rich pay some portion of the family fortune into the public treasury before enjoying the fruits of an accident of birth.
The point of estate taxes has never been to impoverish the wealthy. Rather, it has been to make appropriate demands on those who have most benefited from the security and opportunity America accords the very rich, and to guard against the hoarding impulse of the upper classes.
But George Bush, who has enjoyed more than his share of the benefits of inherited wealth, has never been easy with the America experiment. Born to a life of privilege, educated in private schools and handed business and political opportunities for which others must work a lifetime, Bush has made it his purpose to eliminate the estate tax.
His administration's 2001 tax cut package contained a mechanism to gradually cut the estate tax year by year, by increasing exemptions while reducing the tax rates.
Under the old rules, which served America well for generations, the heirs of a millionaire who left an estate of $2 million would have paid a reasonable portion of that amount in taxes to the federal treasury. Under the Bush rules, as of next year, those heirs will pay nothing.
By 2010, however, the Bush rules will completely eliminate the estate tax. Thus, where the heirs of a millionaire who left an estate of $200 million might once have paid roughly $100 million in taxes, they will pay nothing.
Needless to say, at a time when the federal government struggles to maintain basic programs because so much of the budget is diverted to paying for the president's military misadventures, denying the federal treasury hundreds of billions that the estate tax once generated makes little sense especially when so many wealthy Americans now invest their largesse in overseas projects that compete with U.S. job creation. The suggestion that eliminating estate taxes encourages investment at home and helps the U.S. economy is a cruel hoax developed by spin doctors when no other excuses were left for a "tax reform" that is really a raid on the treasury to benefit the very rich.
Thankfully, when the Senate voted last week on a procedural motion that would have cleared the way for the permanent elimination of the estate tax, the president's Robin Hood-in-reverse scheming was thwarted. Bush's allies in the Senate could not muster enough votes for a move to end estate taxes for all time so, as of now at least, the Bush tax cut will expire in 2011 and the old rules, and streams of revenue, will be restored.
Wisconsin Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl cast critical votes to prevent the Bush scheme from advancing. They did not merely vote for restoration of the estate tax, they voted for the restoration of the principle that, while America may have an aristocracy, its members must pay their fair share of taxes before they enjoy the privileges of their birth.
© 2006 The Capital Times