Democrat's tax-cut nod is no mistake

By Dana Wilkie

April 15, 2005

Rep. Bob Filner
WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Filner found himself in some unusual company this week.

The San Diego Democrat, known to criticize just about everything the GOP-controlled Congress and White House do, on Wednesday voted alongside Republicans to permanently repeal the estate tax.

One expects this from anti-tax Republicans such as Duncan Hunter of El Cajon, Randy "Duke" Cunningham of Escondido or Darrell Issa of Vista, who also voted to repeal the tax that they claim is an unfair burden on heirs.

But from Filner? He's typically a reliable Democratic vote and has opposed past tax cuts pushed by President Bush and the Republicans. In this case, most Democrats opposed the estate tax repeal, contending that it benefits only the affluent and will cost the federal government $290 billion over 10 years.

"I have a changed district as of 2002," said Filner, referring to the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative boundaries that added the Imperial Valley to his San Diego-based 51st District. "I have a lot of farmers there now, and to keep the farm in the family is a big deal."

Current laws gradually increase the size of an estate exempt from tax and decrease the top tax rate before complete repeal for one year in 2010. The House voted 272-162 on Wednesday to repeal the federal estate tax beyond 2010. Filner said farmers support the change because many want to pass along large tracts of land to their heirs. Without a change in law, they might have to sell their land.

Filner was among the 42 Democrats who joined 230 Republicans to pass the measure.

Among San Diego's congressional delegation, only Democrat Susan Davis voted against the repeal.

"In this current era of rapidly increasing deficits, tight budgets and the need to fight the war on terrorism, now is not the time to permanently repeal a tax that will already be eliminated in 2010," Davis said. The repeal bill now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

During his 13 years in Congress, Filner often has attracted attention, but rarely with just his vote. He got himself arrested, for instance, after tussling with police during a 1997 demonstration of Filipino World War II veterans. He participated in virtually every Civil Rights action from 1957 to 1965 and served two months in the Mississippi State Penitentiary after participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides. His press releases frequently blister the Bush administration and Republicans on everything from welfare cuts to Social Security reform.

Asked if the seemingly out-of-character vote had anything to do with running for re-election next year against longtime Democratic rival Assemblyman Juan Vargas, Filner said it did not.

"I've talked to a lot of the farmers in the Imperial Valley and heard (about the estate tax burden) time after time," Filner said. "I have to vote with my constituents."

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