Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called out Republican members of Congress on Thursday for demanding a permanent repeal of the estate tax—a move that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans—while simultaneously rejecting the new coronavirus relief package as "partisan and wasteful."
"While Senate Republicans told us we cannot afford to provide $1,400 direct payments to the working class," the Vermont senator said, "they had no problem introducing a bill this week to repeal the estate tax which would provide a $1.7 trillion tax break to the billionaire class. Total hypocrisy!"
"Republicans are obsessive about delivering massive tax cuts to their super wealthy friends."
—Sen. Chris Murphy
Led by Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.)—who drew widespread scorn last month for his absurd case against raising the federal minimum wage—Republican lawmakers from both chambers of Congress on Tuesday introduced dead-on-arrival legislation that would fulfill the GOP's longstanding goal of permanently repealing the federal estate tax, a clear indication of their priorities as millions of U.S. households continue to face hunger, illness, joblessness, and eviction.
Half of the Senate Republican caucus, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has signed on to the legislation. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) is the lead sponsor of companion legislation in the House.
Contrary to the GOP's depiction of the estate tax as a burden on small family farms and businesses, the tax only applies to a tiny fraction of some of the nation's largest estates.
"Only 1,900 estates were valuable enough to owe this tax in 2018, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center," HuffPost's Arthur Delaney and Igor Bobic pointed out Thursday. "Over 90% of those estates came from the top 10% of income earners; almost half of the total tax paid came from the richest 0.1% of Americans."
Warren Gunnels, Sanders' staff director, noted on Twitter that repealing the tax would "provide a $1.7 trillion tax break to the billionaire class" and nothing for "the bottom 99.99% of Americans."
"Not a single family farm owed an estate tax according to the latest data," said Gunnels. "Not a single one."
In a column on Wednesday, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "couching the estate tax repeal as a benefit for America's valiant business and farm owners is a scam."
"Repealing the estate tax would be a massive handout to rich families, enabling them to concentrate their wealth to an extent the Founding Fathers found inimical to society," Hiltzik added. "When you see Republicans like [Idaho Sen. Mike] Crapo, Thune, and McConnell wringing their hands over the burden on small farms and family businesses, call it for what it is: hogwash."
The Republican Party's latest push for a complete and permanent estate tax repeal came as GOP lawmakers unanimously lined up against a coronavirus relief package that would lift millions out of poverty with direct payments and a major expansion of the child tax credit, extend emergency unemployment benefits, and bolster the fight against the pandemic by providing tens of billions of dollars in new funding for vaccine distribution.
The $1.9 trillion measure passed Congress without a single Republican vote in either chamber, and President Joe Biden signed the package into law on Thursday.
"What a wonderful way for Democrats to continue to show the difference between Republican priorities and Democratic priorities," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told HuffPost. "Republicans are obsessive about delivering massive tax cuts to their super wealthy friends. Democrats just proved we were willing to go big in order to put money in the pockets of lower- and middle-income Americans."