Country Can’t Afford to Rescind Tax

Posted July 22, 2005 at 2:34pm

During my time in Congress, I have strongly supported estate tax relief for American families, farmers and small businesses. I continue to support the ability of one generation to transfer a business and assets to the next generation. Unfortunately, our country’s fiscal situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. While I continue to support estate tax relief, I also believe we must have fiscally responsible policies that will not transfer trillions of dollars in debt to future generations.

On April 20, the House passed H.R. 8, legislation to permanently repeal the estate tax. I opposed this legislation because permanent

repeal of the estate tax will cost approximately $290 billion over the next 10 years. The unfortunate fact is that our country cannot afford estate tax repeal at this time.

The second reason I oppose repeal of the estate tax is that I believe not only should we not borrow money to cut taxes, we should also ensure that we aren’t raising taxes to pay for other tax cuts. H.R. 8 would have the effect of raising capital gains taxes on some beneficiaries by repealing the “step-up in basis” that currently allows assets to be valued at market value when they are inherited.

If H.R. 8 becomes law, an owner of farmland, stocks, mutual funds or even a personal residence would lose the opportunity to pass the asset to the next generation without passing along the owner’s stepped-up cost basis. This would increase the capital gains tax bill that will have to be paid when the heirs sell the asset. In short, this amounts to a tax increase on all estates due simply to the increased cost basis of the estate.

Until we improve the fiscal situation of our country, Congress should attempt to find middle ground between total repeal and the status quo. We need to ensure that the federal government is preparing adequately for the unprecedented demographic shift caused by retirement of the baby boomers that will strain Social Security and Medicare in the decades to come. Spending nearly $300 billion over the next 10 years on full repeal of the estate tax poses a genuine threat to Social Security and Medicare. And it will impose an unnecessary burden on our children and grandchildren, who will be forced to pay back with interest the debt we are accumulating today.

Many of those who advocate permanent repeal of the estate tax ignore our country’s fiscal position. With a projected deficit of more than $300 billion and a national debt of more than $7.8 trillion, this is not sound policy. The “debt tax” — the interest we pay on our national debt — is a tax we are imposing on our children and grandchildren. It cannot be repealed, and can only be reduced if we take responsible steps now to improve our fiscal situation.

On April 12, I introduced H.R. 1574, legislation that would provide immediate estate tax relief by raising the amount of an estate exempt from any estate tax liability from $1.5 million to $3.5 million. The bill also features an exemption for married couples, which would rise to $7 million. H.R. 1574 would also preserve the step-up in basis and thereby provide substantial capital gains tax relief to thousands of American families. This will simplify the tax code and remove uncertainty for families and individuals who are undergoing the confusing process of estate planning under the uncertainty of current law.

This proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the enormous cost of full repeal and the unacceptable cost of doing nothing. Under this proposal, 99.7 percent of the estates in our country would face zero estate tax liability.

Recent reports in the media indicate that the Senate Finance Committee is more likely to consider raising estate tax exemption levels than permanently repealing the tax. I am pleased to hear my colleagues in the Senate are working in a bipartisan manner to address this issue. I hope they will support reasonable changes to the estate tax, such as H.R. 1574.

Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) is a member of the Budget and Financial Services committees.