State Journal Register
August 2, 2006
Durbin in forefront of fight to stop estate tax cut
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON - Sen. Dick Durbin, taking a lead role in a Democratic
campaign to defeat a bill raising the minimum wage and cutting the
estate tax, is blasting the legislation that is expected to be
voted on as early as Friday.
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Durbin, D-Springfield,
expressed Democratic senators' support for hiking the minimum wage
while deriding Republican efforts to reduce the estate tax. "This
tax, this federal estate tax, affects very, very few Americans,"
said Durbin, who serves as his party's whip or No. 2 leader in the
Senate. "Only those in the highest income categories."
Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, are siding with
Democratic leaders' efforts to defeat the legislation, which also
would extend several popular tax provisions that expired last
year. The estate tax has been shrinking since 2001 under the terms
of a tax cut championed by President Bush. It will temporarily
expire in 2010 before returning in 2011.
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has warned that the upcoming
vote is the only chance to pass a minimum wage hike or estate tax
reduction this year.
Defending an estate tax cut, he said it would "finally bring
fairness to that wrongful tax on death."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed to make
defeating the estate tax cut a priority.
Democrats have blasted the estate tax cut as a sop to the wealthy
that will increase the $8 trillion national debt.
The Joint Committee on Taxation said cutting the tax would cost
$268 billion in lost revenue between 2006 and 2016.
A very close vote is expected as GOP leaders seek to convince
several holdout Republicans and a handful of Democrats to support
the legislation. Sixty votes are needed to shut off debate and
bring the measure to a vote in the Senate, where there are 55
Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, had a hand in getting the House to
consider a minimum wage hike in June when he was one of just seven
Republicans on the Appropriations Committee to join committee
Democrats in sending a wage hike proposal to the House floor. The
House approved the latest plan, including the estate tax cut, last
Saturday. LaHood and Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and
Timothy Johnson, R-Sidney, voted in favor of it.
Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, was absent from the 230-180 vote.
The legislation would gradually raise the $5.15 an hour minimum
wage to $7.25 an hour by June 2009.It also would reduce the estate
tax from the levels that it is set to return to in 2011. Under the
bill, the amount of assets in an estate that are exempt from the
tax would rise to $5 million per individual by 2015. Under current
law, the amount exempt would be $1 million in 2011.
The bill would cut the top tax rate on estates from 55 percent in
2011 to 20 percent for estates valued up to $25 million. The tax
rate for estates worth more than $25 million would be 40 percent,
dropping to 30 percent in 2015.
The legislation also extends through 2007 several expiring tax
cuts, including a research and development credit for businesses,
a provision allowing individuals to deduct state and local sales
taxes from their income tax returns and a $4,000 deduction for
higher education expenses.
Durbin said the estate tax cut would cost $750 billion over 10
years, a figure he said was "suggested" in a Washington Post story
and is more than twice as much as official estimates. Republicans,
he said, "in time of war, a war that costs us $3 billion per week
- are proposing tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America."
He said it "tells the whole story about their priorities."