Just Say No to the Estate Tax Repeal

The House is set today to begin consideration of an ill-conceived bill inappropriately entitled “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015.” This bill would repeal the estate tax, a tax which only affects estates worth more than $5.4 million—the wealthiest 0.2 percent of estates in the county. Although only very few—and by definition the wealthiest—American estates are affected by the estate tax, these estates are large enough that its repeal will reduce tax revenues by $269 billion over the next 10 years. It is rather disconcerting that the Republican-led Congress wants to increase federal debt by $269 billion to give the wealthiest a tax break but can’t find $168 billion to fund the Highway Trust Fund to repair our crumbling roads and bridges.

Repealing the estate tax also has other serious adverse effects. First, the tax provides an incentive to the wealthiest Americans to leave part of their estate to charity since charitable contributions are tax deductible. Repealing the tax could dramatically reduce charitable giving as wealthy individuals decide to leave their vast estates to heirs rather than charities.

Second and more important, repeal of the estate tax goes against the founding ideals of our country as best summed up by the economist Richard T. Ely when he wrote on the estate tax in 1888:

One of the principles which controlled the action of Jefferson and other founders of this republic, was the abolition of hereditary distinctions and privileges, and their aim was to force each one to rely on his own exertions for his own fortune, desiring to give to all as nearly as practicable an equal start in the race of life.

It has also been urged by others that one of the most dangerous tendencies of our times is the increasing aggregation of wealth in a few hands. This scheme is a slight corrective, which is in harmony with the spirit of our institutions.