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Senators Hold Unemployed Americans Hostage as They Bargain for Another Trillion-Dollar Tax Giveaway to the Rich
BOSTON - February 25 - In a series of comments over the past few days, Senators Kyl and Grassley have made clear their willingness to hold up unemployment benefits for struggling Americans as a bargaining chip to permanently weaken the federal estate tax, and further enrich America's wealthiest families.
"Why are Senators Kyl and Grassley more worried about enriching the heirs of multimillionaires than about helping Americans hit hardest by the recession?" asks Lee Farris, Estate Tax Policy Coordinator at United for a Fair Economy (UFE). "It is an outrage that they are willing to hold struggling Americans hostage in their efforts to secure another huge tax cut for the wealthy Wall Street crowd that crashed our economy in the first place!"
The $15 billion jobs bill that passed on Wednesday did not extend unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy. As a result, more than a million people will run out of benefits next month if the deadline is not extended, prompting Congress to begin debate over extending those benefits. But Senators Kyl and Grassley are ready to block it to get their way.
Minority Whip Senator Kyl, who has been a leader in efforts to weaken the federal estate tax, stated on Feb. 24 that Republicans will block consideration of the new unemployment benefits bill unless they get "a path forward fairly soon" to voting on a permanent, and weakened estate tax.i And earlier this month, Senator Grassley said that "timely consideration of permanent bipartisan estate and gift tax reform" is "essential to completing action on" a previous jobs bill.ii
UFE's executive director, Brian Miller, points out that the estate tax has nothing to do with extending unemployment insurance or any jobs bill. Miller adds, "We should not allow the anti-estate tax Senators to hold struggling Americans hostage in their political jockeying. If they want to shower more tax breaks on the rich while Americans lose their homes and fill unemployment lines, let them sell their message to the public on its own merits ... or lack of, but don't use hard-hit Americans as a bargaining chip."
The estate tax was temporarily eliminated for one year, 2010, by the Bush tax cuts, and will revert to pre-2001 levels in 2011. The Senate failed to extend the estate tax in December 2009. Efforts are under way to enact a patch to cover the one-year gap, and find a workable long-term agreement.
"'We need a strong estate tax that demonstrates the responsibility of millionaires to support the great country that made their wealth possible," adds Farris. Over 2,000 high-wealth individuals who would likely pay the estate tax agree, and have signed a UFE petition in favor of preserving a strong estate tax. Other high-wealth individuals, including Bill Gates, Sr., have been outspoken supporters of a strong estate tax as a matter of fairness and responsibility.
A Congressional Budget Office study in January 2010 found that tax cuts for the wealthy are the least effective response to the recession, and increasing aid to the unemployment would be the most effective, because unemployed people spend their checks immediately and stimulate the economy.iii "We need to get our economy working again," adds Miller. "All the data shows that the best way out is by focusing our attention on those hit hardest by the recession through jobs programs, unemployment benefits, and similar measures. It's time we get our priorities straight."