by Max Brantley
PLEASE NOTE LAST UPDATE: Mark Pryor threw in Thursday with Blanche Lincoln to bail out billionaires. They'd give the ultra wealthy nearly a half-TRILLION in tax breaks over the next 10 years, according to official estimate in Washington Post.
Who's hurting most in these hard times -- the rising number of unemployed, the evicted, the dispossessed? Or the Waltons?
Ask Sen. Blanche Lincoln. It's the poor oppressed millionaires who need our succor and, most of all, more money.
Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have offered a $250 billion proposal to cut estate taxes for the children of multi-millionaires. The proposal is attracting a disturbing amount of support. In an editorial this morning, The New York Times writes that, while the nation is focused on ending the deep recession, Kyl and Lincoln’s “most pressing issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now.” The Wonk Room’s Ben Furnas noted yesterday:
While opponents of the estate tax claim rolling it back protects small farms and businesses, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that “only 0.2 percent of the additional cost of the proposal, relative to [the Obama proposal], would go toward tax cuts for small businesses and farms.”
The rest of the cost, approximately $249.5 billion, would go to the inheritors of estates worth over $7 million. Paris Hilton, get excited.
The Waltons — the Arkansas-based family that founded Wal-Mart — are one of the key groups financing the campaign to repeal the estate tax. “With all the serious work before Congress, it is a colossal waste of time to have to rebut the false claims and warped premises of ardent estate-tax cutters,” the NYT writes. “Ms. Lincoln’s and Mr. Kyl’s colleagues in the Senate should make short work of it and move on to urgent matters.”
UPDATE: Sen. Lincoln responds. Her legislation is not for the Waltons, she says, but for small businesses and farmers. Her statement on the jump. Our statement: Horse hockey. As the articles note, her legislation would confer nearly all its benefits on the children of multi-millionaires, a tiny percentage on the beloved small businesses and farmers whose interests Lincoln claims to hold paramount. If that's the goal, introduce legislation for them and leave the billionaires out. How many people do you know who are worth $7 million clear? Or more lots, lots more. That's who she's setting out to give preferential treatment to in the hardest times we've seen in a lifetime. How many jobs have the Walton grandkids created by cashing their dividend checks? Think about it.
UPDATE II: The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution endorsing this idea last night, 51-48. Sens. Lincoln and Pryor and seven other Democrats joined with Republicans to help the ailing billionaires of America, over administration opposition. If adopted, this will be a tax break worth hundreds of millions to Walton heirs each time one of of the major beneficiaries of the inherited wealth dies.
STATEMENT FROM SEN. LINCOLN
U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln:
“Many people claim that this proposal is being pushed by the Waltons and others. I can assure you they don’t care. This bill is aimed at farms and small businesses who will never achieve the wealth of entrepreneurial families like the Waltons and others. These are the people who employ the majority of workers in Arkansas. These are the people who, if we reform the estate tax, will invest in their business and create more jobs rather than spend capital on protecting their families from a 55 percent tax burden should they die.
“With all the money we’ve spent to help the economy improve, very little of it has filtered down to Main Street and family-owned businesses. We should take the opportunity to give these businesses the tools they need to reinvest in themselves so they can keep their businesses not only running, but growing and providing new jobs for their communities. Small businesses and family businesses are the engines of our local economies, and at this time of economic crisis, it is all the more crucial to make investments that will help them create jobs.”