|DEATH AND TAXES|
September 7, 2000
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders held a noon news conference in anticipation of the showdown over President Clinton's veto of the estate tax repeal.
REP. RICHARD ARMEY, Majority Leader: We passed a bill -- got it to the President. I think he should have signed it. 65 Democrats in the House voted with us, understanding as we did that it's wrong to tax a family's legacy at the time of a father's death. And we will test the vote today.
KWAME HOLMAN: Currently, the estate tax is levied at escalating rates of up to 55% on estates valued at more than $650,000. It generates about $30 billion a year in federal tax revenue. The House vote to repeal the estate tax came in June, and by an overwhelming number. However, that vote was short of the two-thirds required to override a veto, which President Clinton did last week. And this morning, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said members who didn't vote in June nonetheless oppose repealing the estate tax.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: We had 11 members who were absent, and most of them are voting with us. So, we will easily get to the 145 that we need in order to sustain this veto.
SPOKESMAN: Question is, will the House on reconsideration pass the bill -- the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding?
KWAME HOLMAN: When the debate began this afternoon, there was a general feeling among members the House would not pass the bill over the objections of the President. That may have contributed to the light turnout in the House chamber. Only the bill's most passionate supporters and opponents showed up to debate.
REP. KENNY HULSHOF, (R) Missouri: Should the death of a family member be a taxable event? Should the passing of one's mother or father who have worked hard to build a business, to pass on to their descendants, should that event, that personal tragedy, should that be a taxable event? If you believe that it should be, then vote to sustain the veto of the President. If you think it should not be a taxable event, then vote to override the President's veto.
REP. CHARLES STENHOLM, (D) Texas: Mr. Speaker, if you believe that repeal of the estate tax is more important that eliminating the national debt and protecting the integrity of the Medicare and Social Security trust fund, vote to override the veto of this bill. However, if you agree that eliminating the national debt and protecting Social Security and Medicare is a more important priority than any new spending or tax cuts, then vote to sustain this veto.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today marked the beginning of the legislative home stretch for Congress as members rushed to complete their work by early October. New York Democrat Charles Rangel said he hopes today's debate would set the tone for the hectic weeks ahead.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) New York: We can have our differences, but let's try to set a tone this evening that as we conclude this session, that we will be in a better position to compromise and to get something signed into law.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rangel may have abandoned that hope after Arizona Republican J.D. Hayworth came to the floor.
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH, (R) Arizona: Mr. Speaker, I think it is painfully apparent. Our friends on the left believe there is a higher and better use for your money in the coffers of the federal government. My friend from New York said it very clearly. In the "Wall Street Journal" we'll have to figure out what hasn't been hit so hard and take away some of what they have earned." So what we say is this: Not for flowery speech. I will not yield. I will not yield to my friend from New York.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: You don't want to get involved in Presidential politics. I know you don't want to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rangel and respond after Hayworth finished, but Richard Neal of Massachusetts did.
REP. RICHAR DNEAL, (D) Massachusetts: The problem with what the previous speaker just said is that 98% of the American people are not affected by this. This is clearly an effort to reward 2% of the American people. That's what the estate tax is about.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Ken Calvert of California stepped in on that point.
REP. KEN CALVERT, (R) California: Those 2% we keep hearing from our friends on the right or on the left, I should say, those 2% hire a substantial amount of people who work in this country. So let's keep that in mind.
KWAME HOLMAN: One argument made repeatedly in support of the estate tax repeal is that it would give relief to family members who inherit farms. No one made that argument more strenuously today than Illinois Republican Donald Manzullo.
REP. DONALD MANZULLO, (R) Illinois: America's farmers are being called rich, and insignificant. This is the bill to help them out, Mr. President, and you vetoed it. And you looked them right in the eye, and you said "you don't count."
KWAME HOLMAN: House Minority Whip David Bonior followed and suggested that Democrats' alternative legislation, which Republicans defeated in June, would have helped those family farms immediately.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: I would just say to him with all due respect, that the plan that you have offered will take ten years to phase in to help those farmers that you just talked about. The plan that we have been talking about and we have been arguing for will cover up to $4 million in exemptions for businesses and for farmers like you have just described. And it will take effect immediately. That's the difference.
KWAME HOLMAN: When voting began there again was a surge of support for repealing the estate tax. But that surge never was about to top the two-thirds needed to override the President's veto.
SPOKESMAN: The clerk will notify the Senate of the action of the House.
KWAME HOLMAN: But today's vote in the House makes any veto override attempt in the Senate a moot point.