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Greg Walden: The So-Called Estate Tax

I wanted to let you know that on December 3, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on legislation (H.R. 4154) that would permanently set the estate tax at the 2009 levels. Estate tax may sound harmless, but here’s what it is: the government taxing, when you pass away, about half of what you’ve worked in a lifetime to save. This legislation passed by a vote of 225 – 200 with no support from Republican members.

I did not vote for H.R. 4154. It would permanently extend the excessively high tax rate of 45 percent and an un-indexed exemption amount of $3.5 million ?” the same levels currently in effect for 2009. At the 45 percent rate, nearly half of the value of many estates would be taxed away by the federal government, with additional taxes levied at the state level. Since the exemption amount set by H.R. 4154 is not indexed for inflation, more and more family farms, ranches and businesses would be subject to the estate tax in years to come. While the bill allows for the certainty that permanence provides, failing to index the exemption amount creates an AMT-like nightmare in the near future.

I supported an alternative measure that failed by a vote of 187 – 233, which garnered the support of 18 Democrats. This alternative would fully repeal the estate tax for 2010 and 2011, giving Congress additional time to reach bipartisan agreement on how to address the fluctuating estate tax rate and exemption level. I believe this kind of bipartisan bill could actually be signed into law, unlike H.R. 4154. Senate leaders have already indicated that they support a different estate tax relief measure that is actually very similar to the bill I have cosponsored (described below).

It’s no surprise that permanent repeal of the estate tax is nearly impossible in the current legislative climate with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and White House. However, Congress must act soon to blunt the estate tax because in 2011 the tax rate will rise to 55 percent and the exemption rate will fall to $1 million. Therefore, I have put my support behind H.R. 3905, bipartisan legislation that would set a permanent rate of 35 percent and exempt $5 million ($10 million for married couples) from taxation. H.R. 3905 is endorsed by the American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Independent Community Bankers of America, National Association of Manufactures, National Automobile Dealers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, National Restaurant Association, Associated General Contractors of American, the International Franchise Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.

The estate tax discourages work and lifelong savings in favor of large-scale consumption. Absent full repeal, a legislatively achievable alternative such as H.R. 3905 provides families with certainty and does not completely rob capital that family farms, ranches and businesses would otherwise invest to purchase equipment and create jobs, providing a boost to our local economy and communities.

Thanks for allowing me to update you. It is an honor to represent you in the U.S. Congress.

Best regards,

Greg Walden
Member of Congress

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