This vote was on an amendment by Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would create a new parliamentary rule that would make it easier to defeat any future legislation that provided relief from the estate tax without also providing tax relief to individuals making less than $100,000 annually. The amendment was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
The estate tax is the tax charged on property that’s willed to someone upon their death (hence why Republicans often refer to the tax as the “death tax.”) Easing or repealing the estate tax has been a priority for fiscal conservatives for some time. Republicans argue that the estate tax hampers small businesses and family farmers; they also say the estate tax amounts to “double taxation.” Prior to the vote on Durbin’s amendment, the Senate adopted an amendment by Blanche Lincoln that would allow for future legislation to ease the estate tax (see vote 146).
Democrats counter that attempts to repeal or ease the estate tax are mainly for those who are already wealthy, since the tax affects a relatively small number of people. In order to be subject to an estate tax, the estate being willed must exceed a total taxable value of $1 million – according to the Internal Revenue Service, only 2 percent of estates are subject to the estate tax.
“At this point, it is clear [senators who voted for Lincoln’s amendment] would move forward with these tax breaks for the wealthiest people in America. My amendment is simple. It says we should help struggling Americans first. Before we give an additional $100 billion in tax breaks to the super wealthy, we must first give at least as much in tax relief to Americans earning less than $100,000. It will be tax relief beyond that already included in this budget resolution,” Durbin said.
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who cosponsored the amendment with Lincoln referenced in vote 146, said Durbin’s amendment is “directly contrary” to Lincoln’s amendment, which was adopted.
“Were this to be adopted, you would have two absolutely contradictory instructions,” Kyl said.
By a vote of 56-43, the amendment was adopted. All but two Democrats present voted for the amendment. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward with language that would provide a new Senate rule that would make it easier to defeat future legislation that would provide estate tax relief unless it also provided tax relief to those earning less than $100,000 annually.