The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Michael Briggs or Will Wiquist (202) 224-5141

Sanders Bill Restores Estate Tax on Billionaires


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced legislation to restore the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans. The proposal would bring in at least $264 billion over a decade to help lower 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.

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.

"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," Sanders said.

Sanders has made deficit reduction a priority, proposing legislation in the last month alone to repeal more than $35 billion in oil company tax breaks and commissioning Government Accountability Office studies spotlighting more than $20 billion in Pentagon waste on unneeded spare parts.

"I get a little bit tired of being lectured by Republicans for the deficit we are in," Sanders said, noting 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.

Sanders estate tax legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The bill would:

* 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.

United States Senator for Vermont

(202) 224-5141