House Democrats plan to introduce a bill today to extend and overhaul the estate tax beyond 2012 in the opening salvo of what is likely to be a long and politically-charged debate next year.
A favored target of Republicans, the tax on inherited wealth already promises to be one of the most controversial elements of the tax code up for renewal at the end of next year. Six Republican presidential candidates, including all of the front-runners, have said they would repeal the tax.
But the legislation by Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.), a veteran member of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposes to extend the current reach of the estate tax by reducing the amount of the estate exempted from the tax to $1 million from $5 million and raising the tax rate to 55% from 35%, bringing it back to pre-Bush era levels.
"I’m not against people making money in this country, but I do think they have a responsibility to give some of it back," especially at a time of a deep federal budget deficit, McDermott said in an interview this week.
While Democrats acknowledge they will face stiff resistance from Republicans, McDermott said taxpayers need to know Congress is not ignoring the issue until the last minute. In a deal brokered with President Barack Obama last December, Congress reinstated the estate tax for this year and next, after letting it lapse for one year in 2010. While the estate tax is slated to revert back to 2001 levels after next year, Republicans in Congress have already introduced legislation to repeal it again
"It really is a question of clarity," for both families and planners, McDermott said. "The question is how to bring fairness into it."
Under McDermott’s proposal, co-sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), the exemption for married couples would drop to $2 million from $10 million.
Spouses could still claim the remainder of their partner’s exemption if some remains unused after death, as they can now. The rate and $1 million exemption would be adjusted for inflation, beginning at the 2000 level.
The bill, slated to be introduced today, would also unify the estate and gift taxes. That means a taxpayer would only have a single exemption of $1 million for their estate and most gifts. The legislation also includes several provisions from Obama’s last budget proposal to end targeted estate tax breaks.
Republicans, often led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) have pushed hard in previous years to repeal the tax, whose rates and exemption levels have varied wildly over the last decade.