Senate Rejects Bill to Cut Estate Tax
ROBERT SIEGEL host:
For a second day in a row the Senate rejected legislation strongly backed by President Bush. Yesterday it was a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Today it was permanent repeal of the estate tax.
Still, Republicans hope the Senate votes will help them in this year's elections, as NPR's David Welna reports from the Capital.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Five years ago Congress approved gradually rolling back the estate tax so that by the year 2010 not one penny left to heirs would be taxed. But that repeal then disappears in 2011. Even though that's five years away, Majority Leader Bill Frist said the law must be changed now.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): This death tax is unfair. I think that's the strongest argument of why we bring the death tax, the repeal of the death tax, back to the floor today. It is time to bury it. It is time for it to go.
WELNA: And Arizona Republican John Kyl, who's the chief proponent of the state tax repeal, disagreed with Democrats who said his party is simply doing the bidding of the very rich.
Senator JOHN KYL (Republican, Arizona): It has been found by Gallop surveys and other surveys that the American people believe this is the most unfair tax and by percentages, 60, 70 percent all agree that it should be eliminated.
WELNA: But the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said 18 families with a combined worth of 185 billion dollars spent 200 million dollars lobbying Congress to repeal the estate tax. Doing that, he said, would save them 71 billion dollars, but cost the U.S. Treasury a trillion dollars over the next decade.
Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): It is about the wealthiest people in America flexing their muscles and pushing through on Capital Hill the most outrageous piece of special interest legislation in modern memory.
WELNA: North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan warned repealing the estate tax would only further concentrate wealth in the U.S.
Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): The wealthiest one percent of Americans now own a bigger piece of the pie than the poorest 90 percent added together and that gap is growing and this legislation will once again decide to expand the inequality of income in this country.
WELNA: Fifty-seven senators, all but four of them Republicans, voted for consideration of the House-passed repeal bill. But as Utah Republican Bob Bennett lamented, that was three fewer than the 60 votes needed.
Senator BOB BENNETT (Republican, Utah): We got very close, but close doesn't count. So we'll have to see what we can do about perhaps some slight changes or further compromises that can get us to 60 votes.
WELNA: Still Republicans hope today's vote will help them in tight election races. Should they lose control of the Senate, prospects for repealing the estate tax could fade even further.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capital.
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