This was a vote on final House passage of legislation designed to make the estate tax permanent and to reduce its impact on those who will be required to pay it. The imposition of the estate tax had become a very contentious issue. Supporters claimed that it was fair and would be imposed on a very small percentage of Americans. Opponents had taken to calling it a “death tax”. They claimed it was unfair to those who had paid a tax on their previous earnings and that it was especially damaging to small businesses.
Rep. Rangel (D-NY), the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee was a supporter of the bill. He referenced the fact that uncertainty had resulted because the estate tax had previously been suspended for a number of years, and claimed that making the tax permanent would eliminate that uncertainty. Rep. Pascrell (D-NJ), another supporter, noted that the estate tax as imposed in the bill “affects only estates of significant size--presently, right now, over $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples” and characterized it as “the most progressive tax in our federal tax system.” He argued that those opposing the implementation of the estate tax “want to protect . . . one generation of superrich families so they can send (their wealth) on to another group.” Rep. Pomeroy (D-ND) cited statistics showing that only one quarter of one percent of all Americans would be subject to the tax.
Rep. Camp (R-MI), the Ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, was leading the opposition to the bill. He said: “Death should not force the sale of family farms or the dissolution of small businesses (because of the imposition of the estate tax).” Camp referenced the claim by Rep. Rangel that one of the benefits of the bill is that it would create certainty, and said it is “the certainty of a federal tax rate that at 45 percent must be considered confiscatory . . . (and) the certainty of an exemption that is not indexed for inflation, meaning that over time . . . more and more family farms and small businesses will be subject to this punishing tax.” Camp also said: “No American should have the federal government take nearly half of (his or her) net worth.”
Rep. Brady (R-TX), another opponent, asked rhetorically: “Can you imagine working your whole life to keep your family farm or to build up a small business, and then when you die Uncle Sam swoops in and takes up as much as half of all you've spent a lifetime working for? That's what the death tax does. It is wrong, it is immoral, and in many ways un-American.”
Brady also said that “the number one reason family farms and small businesses will not be passed down to the next generation is the death tax; and the number one reason the fastest growing number of entrepreneurs, women, and minority-owned businesses will not be passed down to the next generation . . . will be the same death tax.” Brady noted the argument made by supporters of the estate tax that Bill Gates and several other of the wealthiest Americans supported the bill, and countered by saying “the people most hurt by this tax are . . . real people building wealth in our communities . . . These are not the aristocracies that are being referred to in this debate.”
The vote on passage of the legislation was 225- 200. All two hundred and twenty-five “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Twenty-six other Democrats joined all one hundred and seventy-four Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed legislation designed to make the estate tax permanent and to reduce its impact on those who will be required to pay it, and sent the bill on to the Senate.