For eight years I have spoken to anyone who would listen about the importance of creating a strong estate tax, and there is no more critical time for action to be taken by Congress on this matter than now.
In a few days the Senate will break for their holiday recess and if they do not act the estate tax will disappear in 2010. The House of Representatives recently cast a 225-200 vote in favor of Rep. Earl Pomeroy's estate tax proposal, which makes 2009 estate tax law permanent, with a $3.5 million exemption ($7 million for married couples), and a 45% tax rate. If the Senate agrees, the result will still be a loss of $391 billion over 10 years, although that is better than no tax.
Letting the tax disappear entirely will be even more devastating and will cost upwards of a trillion dollars in lost revenue; revenue that supports vital public systems -- including transportation and energy infrastructure, education and healthcare -- that are the foundation of our broad-based prosperity and economic stability.
This is why I believe we must do more and strengthen this levy, which is our county's only tax on inherited wealth and applies to less than 1 percent of American families. The estate tax raises substantial revenue from those with the greatest capacity to pay.
If abolished or weakened, there are only three ways to make up the resulting shortfall: cut spending, raise taxes on the middle class, or pile it on to the national debt and leave it to our children and grandchildren who will inherit the consequences of the decisions we make now. This why I and thousands of other wealthy individuals have joined a campaign led by United for a Fair Economy to call on Congress to strengthen the estate tax.
A common, and misguided, criticism of the estate tax is that individuals who work hard and save their money should be entitled to pass on the fruits of that labor to their family. I am not against working hard, saving money, or taking care of your family.
However we must acknowledge that the person who accumulates wealth in this country was not able to do that independently. The simple fact of living in America, a country with stable markets and unparalleled opportunity fueled in part by government investment in technology and research (something my family has plenty of firsthand experience of), provide an irreplaceable foundation for success and have created a society which makes it possible for some men, women and their children to live an elegant life.
I attended the University of Washington under the G.I. Bill, and then became a lawyer enjoying a successful career that allowed me to provide well for my family so that they in turn were able to create their own wealth. So I believe that those of us who have benefited so greatly from our country's investment in our lives should be asked to give a portion of our wealth back to invest in opportunities for the future.
Society has a just claim on our fortunes and that claim goes by the name estate tax.