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Editorials April 21

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Salt in the wound It is bad enough that U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, nominally a Democrat, voted to permanently repeal the federal estate tax, a repeal that was a key element of the Republican program to comfort the wealthy. He compounded the offense by adopting the Republicans’ deceitful language in a news release, calling the tax on vast inherited wealth a “death tax.” You wonder if he will begin calling the Democratic Party the “Democrat Party,” more weasel wordage that the Republicans adopted long ago. Berry is not Arkansas’s only representative from the nominal wing of the Democratic Party. Rep. Mike Ross dwells there too, and like Berrry, Ross voted to repeal the death tax, which is to say he voted against the interests of 99 percent of the people, and for making the 1 percent who are superrich even superricher, and tax-proof. Only Vic Snyder of Arkansas’s Democrats in the House voted like a Democrat. We have grown all too accustomed to this. The same week of the estate-tax vote, Berry and Ross voted for a Republican bill to further punish those who’ve been so unfortunate as to lose their jobs or incur catastrophic medical expenses. Charge-card companies and other members of the creditor class contributed millions to political campaigns — principally President Bush’s — in order to get this bankruptcy “reform” law that will make it easier for them to harvest their pounds of flesh. Once again, Snyder voted no. (The fourth member of the Arkansas House delegation, Republican John Boozman, voted as he always does, like a highly partisan, right-wing Republican. Ideology and party loyalty are what pass for principle with Boozman.) The news release from Berry’s office on the estate tax could have been written by Tom DeLay: “Once again family farmers and small business owners can grow their business and pass it on to their survivors without fear of unfair taxes destroying the nest-egg they have worked so hard to create. … Death taxes destroy family-owned farms and ranches …” Utter drivel, of course, and Berry knows it. No family-owned farm or ranch has ever been destroyed by the estate tax. Even the Farm Bureau could find no record of such a thing. Most heirs don’t pay any estate tax, and most of those who do pay, pay modest amounts. But the limited amount of revenue produced by the tax is enough to provide a tiny bit of medical care for the sick, a morsel of food for a hungry child, perhaps a leaky roof over someone’s head. It seems little enough to ask of the most privileged Americans. For Democrats, saving the estate tax and preventing the bankruptcy scam should be what the Religious Right calls “salt and light” issues — things that separate their party from the other. Vic Snyder votes conviction and compassion, and gets re-elected. So might Berry and Ross if they had the courage to try.

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