Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.
Politicians face many difficult issues, but some are simple. The current effort to repeal all or most of the estate tax—known as the "Paris Hilton tax" because it is levied on the estates of the wealthiest Americans—is one of those. In a time of growing inequality and soaring personal debt and government deficits, it would provide a $1 trillion tax break over 10 years to the handful of families with multimillion-dollar estates.
Conservatives favor repeal. DeLay Republicans have no qualms. They want to tax work, not wealth. They want to “starve the beast” of government, hoping that deficits and debt will force deep cuts in domestic spending. They fund their campaigns from the contributions of the well-heeled that Bush once referred to as “my base.” Yes, they are for spending $1 trillion on the occupation of Iraq, for spending more on the military than the rest of the world combined, for lavishing hundreds of billions on the drug companies through the scandalous prescription drug bill. Yes, they’ve run up greater deficits and debt that any government in recorded time. It doesn’t matter. Cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans? You bet. Let poor kids go half time to schools with doubled-up classes? Cut student loan funds and price college out of reach for working families? Whatever. They are on board—and lining up for the junkets their votes will insure.
Progressives oppose repealing the tax—as should all Democrats. We support progressive taxes, and want to lower the burden on workers and raise it on the affluent. In a society with Gilded Age levels of inequality, stagnant wages and a struggling middle class, a tax on the estates of the wealthiest handful of families is a no-brainer. Particularly this tax, which, after “estate planning,” ends up levying a tax of about 20 percent on multi-million dollar inheritances.
Plus, progressives want to invest America’s resources in education and science and technology. We understand the costs of public squalor amid private wealth. We understand that the strength of America’s democracy is the American dream—the broad middle class that is our country’s triumph.
So voting against repeal—full or partial—is an easy vote. Someone has to pay taxes—surely the wealthiest Americans should contribute the most. Yet, as the Senate moves toward a vote, Blanche Lincoln, a Democratic senator from Arkansas, has indicated that she’ll vote for repeal. Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida and Max Baucus of Montana will likely join her. Sens. Pryor and Landrieu are shaky. And wily Republican managers have added enticements for the timber industry to the bill, hoping to lure Sen. Wyden of Oregon or Sen. Cantwell of Washington to the dark side.
Sure, the Wal-Mart Waltons—whose family members constitute half of the 10 richest people in America—are among the handful of families bankrolling the front groups pushing for repealing the estate tax. They stand to pocket billions if they succeed. Their base is Arkansas, which is said to explain why Lincoln "Blanched." But of course, Arkansas’ voters will end up paying for this massive tax break to the Waltons through higher taxes, higher interest rates, higher college costs and much more. They should be informed just whose interests Sen. Lincoln represents.
Today in Roll Call, the Campaign for America’s Future has published an ad asking how many Democrats will Blanche on the estate tax. If Democrats stand together, the attempt to shift taxes from wealth to workers will be stopped. We should take down the names of any who stray. Each of them should be held accountable for lacking both decency and sense.
Sen. Joe Lieberman is aghast that anyone would have the temerity to challenge a sitting Democrat in a primary. The DLC calls Ned Lamont’s challenge to Lieberman an attempted “purge.” Lieberman suggests that challenging him because he supports the president’s debacle in Iraq threatens to make Democrats into a sect rather than a party. We’re supposed to shut up, sit back and applaud our elders no matter where they stand.
No más . On basic issues, Democrats need more accountability, not more license. Those Democrats who "Blanche" on the repeal of the estate tax simply don’t represent the interests of their voters. They are courting a challenge by someone who does represent those voters.
On this vote, it is time to take down names. No free passes on this one.