How a tax on the rich is sold as tax on death

Republicans in Congress recently voted to repeal the estate tax, and it’s perfect. By which I mean it’s the perfect demonstration of the mystifying current state of political affairs, a master class in what’s happening at all levels of right-wing “governance” today.

Let’s start with some facts, courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (tinyurl.com/natabut): the estates of married couples that are subject to the tax are those valued at more than about $11 million. Second, the tax — currently 40 percent — is applied only to money above that level; in other words, the tax on an estate worth $100 over $11 million would be forty bucks. Because of that, and various loopholes, the average overall rate ends up around 17 percent. Third, estates of that amount account for two-tenths of 1 percent of all estates. In 2013, about twenty small businesses and family farms paid estate taxes. The total number of families paying estate taxes is just over 5,000. Using the ten-year metric by which tax policies are measured, eliminating the tax adds more than $300 billion to deficits, including interest on the debt.

Whatever side of the political divide you’re on, you can’t disagree that elimination of the estate tax is of benefit to none but the very most wealthy; nor can it escape notice that among that group are those who contribute astonishing amounts of money to various political candidates. Since Citizens United, we’re informed we needn’t know the exact amounts, nor even the sources of the cash; but if anyone thinks it doesn’t lead to quids pro quo, they’re off-planet. Or they’re Anthony Kennedy.

As usual, despite their claims to fiscal high ground, Republican Congressfolk proposed nothing to make up for the hit to budgetary balance. But we all know from where it’d come, were the bill to make it into law (which it won’t, as long as there’s a Democratic president): It’ll come from services to the rest of us. Which is exactly the point. Average people elected these guys. The people most hurt, every time and everywhere this trickle-down fantasy has been implemented, are the ones serially selecting the brokers of bogosity. How can this be explained?

Well, for one thing, Republicans and their media mouthpieces managed to rebrand the estate tax as the “death tax.” Brilliant. Because if most of us will never get within miles of that kind of money, we all die. So we can relate. Clearly, Republicans are infinitely more effective at selling messages that make no sense than Democrats are at selling ones that do. Like “death panels” vs. “affordable care.” Polls show how ill informed Republicans are on the effects of the ACA. (See tinyurl.com/mne7weu)

Repealing the estate tax does no good for the country at large. It can only be understood as a payoff to a tiny number of people giving huge amounts of cash to politicians. Everyone who’s not in that category ought to be outraged at how much power has been given to so few, promising to vote the givers out of office faster than the Koch Brothers can sign a check. So how do they get away with it? Like they always have: by ginning up outrage at something else. It’s like shooting fish in a barn door, and we can already see the latest prestidigitation taking shape. To get their electorate, yet again, to vote against their own interests in the important things, to ignore, as usual, the damage caused by the policies they’ll endorse by default, to overlook the glaring differences, for example, between Republican-governed Wisconsin and Democrat-governed Minnesota, the Republican machine is grinding up their latest summer sausage. To wit:

You’re aware, right?, as Mike Huckabee has revealed, that gay marriage will lead to criminalization of Christianity. (Benghazi.) You’re upset that, as Bill O’Reilly informs us, rich people suffer oppressive tax rates, while poor people have it too easy. (Benghazi.) Like the Kansas legislature (Benghazi), you’ve noticed all those folks spending food stamps on cruise ships. And if those don’t get you, Lindsey Graham, about to announce his candidacy (Benghazi), reminds us we have to stop ISIS before “we all get killed here at home.” Our ever-vigilant media, meanwhile, would rather know if Scott Walker would attend a gay wedding than how he explains his state’s economic disaster.

Sid Schwab is a surgeon and Everett resident. His email address is columnsid@gmail.com.

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