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Ari & I: April 9, 2001

Russell Mokhiber questions White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Russell Mokhiber questions White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer gestures as he speaks to reporters at the White House briefing room April 2, 2003 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mokhiber: Ari, the President has said that we are going to get rid of the death tax "to keep farms in the family."

Yesterday, the New York Times, on the front page, ran an article, quoting tax experts saying they have never found a farm lost because of estate taxes.

They quote -- even the American Farm Bureau Federation, which supports repeal -- saying they could not cite a single instance of a farm lost because of estate taxes.

So, what did the President mean when he said we are going to get rid of the death tax to keep farms in the family?

Fleischer: Well, one of the reasons for that is that farmers have to go through a tortuous process just to keep the farm in the family hands. There is no reason that farmers or anybody else should have to go through these tax avoidance schemes, to have to get financial planners -- you shouldn't have to get estate planner just because you work the land.

And the only reason they have to get estate planners to carry out all of these tax avoidance procedures, is for the purpose of keeping their farms. If it wasn't for all of those procedures they have to put in place, which cost them a tremendous amount of money, they certainly would lose the family farm. And that's why they do it. They are worried about losing the family farm. Because of the death tax, people hire all of these planners to keep the land that is rightfully theirs.

[Note: Only the richest two percent of Americans owe estate taxes. That's because the estate tax is not applied on the first $1.35 million of a couple's estate. A farm couple can pass $4.1 million untaxed, as long as their heirs continue farming for 10 years, according to the Times.

Contrary to Fleischer description of a "tortuous process" to keep the farm in the family, the farm couple profiled in the Times article were "surprised to discover" that "avoiding the estate tax was easy."

According to the Times, and contrary to Fleischer's statement, the data suggest that the tax applies mostly to gentleman farmers and ranchers, rather than farmers who work the land.]

. . .

Mokhiber: Ari, back in his baseball days, President Bush pulled together a group of investors who wanted to build a stadium for the Texas Rangers. The local authority used the power of eminent domain to get the land to build the stadium.


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In today's LA Times, there is a proposal floated to use eminent domain in California to take electricity generation plants back into public power, so as to relieve the crisis in California. Does the President approve of this use of eminent domain for public purposes?

Fleischer: In the case of what California is doing, so long as it falls within California law, that's something the President would say California needs to decide. The President is not willing to weigh in on states' business and tell states how to conduct their affairs, so I would refer you to California authorities.

I thought you were going to ask me about the pitch the President threw out Friday night in Milwaukee.

Mokhiber: And you were going to say?

Fleischer: Davey Lopes said it looked like a strike to him.

. . .

Mokhiber: Senator Harkin is accusing Lockheed Martin of using an apparent accounting trick to gouge taxpayers out of $100 million. President Bush's two top people at the Department of Transportation, Norman Mineta and Michael Jackson, are from Lockheed Martin. And Lockheed Martin obviously has a lot of business before the Department of Transportation.

Is the President concerned at all of this appearance of Lockheed Martin in control of the Department of Transportation, number one, and number two, of a tax gouger -- officials from a tax gouger -- being in charge of the Department of Transportation?

Fleischer: First of all, Secretary Mineta is a man of great respect, former member of Congress, and former Cabinet member. And that's how -- his view of this administration.

If there any irregularities, the President is confident that they will be looked at, they will be explored and corrected, if any are found. He has nothing but faith in Secretary Mineta.

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