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Introduced Legislation to Shift Tax Burden Back to Billionaires

by John Byrne

WASHINGTON - Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is sick of the super-rich avoiding estate taxes.

On Thursday, he made good on his word: he today introduced legislation to restore the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans, which he says would bring in at least $264 billion in the next ten years to help reduce the national debt.

"This legislation would ensure that the wealthiest Americans in our country, millionaires and billionaires, pay their fair share while exempting 99.7 percent of Americans from paying any estate tax whatsoever," Sanders said in a release. "At a time when we have a record-breaking $13 trillion national debt and a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, people who inherit multi-million and billion dollar estates must not be allowed to avoid paying their fair share in estate taxes."

Sander's release notes that the estate tax was abolished this year "as a result of tax law changes signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. For the first time since 1916, heirs to multi-million and billion dollar fortunes may receive their entire inheritance free of any federal taxes, a giveaway that will cost the U.S. treasury at least $14.8 billion in lost revenue this year alone."

"I get a little bit tired of being lectured by Republicans for the deficit we are in," Sanders said -- asserting that Bush-era Republicans "funded but failed to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; tax breaks for the wealthy; a prescription drug bill written by the pharmaceutical industry; and a $700 billion Wall Street bailout."

Among the legislation's highlights:

  • Exempt the first $3.5 million of an estate from federal taxation ($7 million for couples), the same exemption that existed in 2009. That would leave 99.75 percent of all estates exempt from the federal estate tax next year.
  • Create a progressive rate so the super wealthy pay more. The tax rate estates valued between $3.5 million and $10 million would be 45 percent, the same as the 2009 level. The rate on estates worth more than $10 million and below $50 million would be 50 percent, and the rate on estates worth more than $50 million would be 55 percent.
  • Include a billionaire's surtax of 10 percent. According to Forbes Magazine, there are only 403 billionaires in the United States with a collective net worth of $1.3 trillion. Clearly, the heirs to these multi-billion fortunes should be paying a higher estate tax rate than others.
  • Close estate and gift tax loopholes as President Obama proposed in his budget for next year. The White House estimated that closing the loopholes would generate at least $23.7 billion in revenue over 10 years.
  • Protect family farmers by allowing them to lower the value of their farmland by up to $3 million for estate tax purposes. The bill also would increase the maximum exclusion for conservation easements to $2 million. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has estimated that only 80 small businesses and farm estates throughout the country paid an estate tax in 2009, affecting only three out of every 100,000 people who passed away.
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