An all-night session by the U.S. Senate last night included votes on dozens of budget amendments with no chance of becoming law, but proposed to score political points.
A couple of votes concerned the estate tax, already trimmed recently to exempt $10 million worth of husband-wife assets from taxation when passed to a spouse. The law already includes all kinds of preferential treatment for farmers, usually used as a poster child for efforts to end the estate tax. The estate tax exemption is also indexed now and carries a dramatically lower top marginal tax rate than it once did.
The Senate last night approved a proposal by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to further reduce or eliminate the estate tax if offsetting revenue was provided, but defeated a Republican proposal to end it entirely. The Republican Talking Point Factory moved into high gear and within minutes the Arkansas sector of the Twittersphere was full of messages that Sen. Mark Pryor had voted against the "family farmer" by approving the "death tax."
Again: the stats show that only a tiny handful of estates in Arkansas — of farmers or anyone — pay an estate tax, fewer than 200 in a typical year. The farm lobby has yet to find a "family farm" sold to pay an estate tax levy. But "family farm" and "death tax" are irresistible, if dishonest, labeling now and forever for Republicans.
How dishonest is this notion that "family farmers" are imperiled by the estate tax? Note this from CNBC on NATIONAL figures:
Tax data suggests that farmers account for a very small amount of estate taxes paid. According to the Tax Policy Center, of the 3,270 taxpayers paying an estate tax in 2011, fewer than 50 were small farms and businesses, representing just over one percent of total estate taxes paid.
So, by the averages, one or two Arkansas farms or small businesses might have faced an estate tax levy in 2011.
I wish the Arkansas Republicans who are attacking Pryor by means of this political show vote last night would produce an Arkansas farm family that has actually paid the levy under the new law so that we might get a first-hand look, including some dollar specifics, on the practical effect.
Facts don't matter. Republican lies on the estate tax have been so successful over the years that Arkansas is full of people who believe the feds are standing by to collect a tax when they die, even if their assets are little more than a mortgaged mobile home and a Beanie Baby collection.
Bloomberg has a rundown of the symbolic voting on budget measures, much of it mainly aimed at producing TV commercial fodder for campaign 2014.
PS — The Senate did pass its first budget in four years, by a 50-49 vote. Mark Pryor was one of four red-state Democrats who face re-elections next year who didn't vote for the proposal. His statement:
This budget fails to strike the right balance between cutting our spending and setting up a path for future job creation and economic growth. Instead of one-party solutions, we should work together to find a balanced approach that will benefit our economy, seniors, and middle class families.