Column: The party for the rich

By Matt Simmons

While the Republican Party claims to represent the true values of Americans, its actions clearly show an unyielding allegiance to the wealthy and big business even at the time of economic strain. Time and time again, it has turned its back on the American people for the sake of special interests. The current Republican majority at Capitol Hill is no different.

So far this year, the Republican-controlled Congress has passed a bankruptcy bill that made it harder for working Americans to get rid of credit card debt – ignoring the fact that most credit card debt was due to catastrophic medical expenses – to protect big credit card companies from their irresponsible lending habits. At the same time, conservatives opposed attempts to help working people by raising the minimum wage, using the worn out and unproven argument that raising minimum wage increases unemployment. And Republicans forced through a law that makes it harder for injury victims to collect compensation from corporations through class-action lawsuits. The ongoing assault on the estate tax is the latest example of the Republican pandering to the rich at the expense of the ordinary Americans.

For years, the GOP has been whining about the estate tax, which they have dubbed “the death tax” because it supposedly punishes small business and family farm owners who became wealthy through hard work and determination. They claim that many of them have been forced to sell their farms because they were unable to pay the extremely high estate tax rates.

But the truth is the Republican opposition to the estate tax exposes their irresponsibility and greed. First of all, the estate tax does not tax death. The estate tax is an inheritance tax levied against inherited fortunes. People who inherit huge estates from relatives or friends have done nothing to deserve those estates. We should not feel sorry for people that have to pay taxes on a free handout.

Repeal of the estate tax would also be very costly. According to the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, repealing the estate tax would decrease government revenue by more than $270 billion through 2015. Instead of lining the pockets of the wealthy, we should use that money to shore up our deficit, keep our troops well-equipped, take care of our children and ensure the security of the nation.

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    It is true that the estate tax needs to be reformed. It is filled with loopholes that must be closed. It is also important to raise the threshold for exemption from the tax, currently at $1.5 million, in order to protect some inheritors from selling their family businesses or property just to pay off the bill from the federal government. But while the House Democrats offered to raise the exemption to estates valued at under $3.5 million, the Republicans rejected the offer. This proves that Republicans are not interested in helping small businesses and family farms; their true motive is to protect the inheritances of the wealthy. The fact is that only half of one percent of estate tax revenue that is collected under the current law comes from estates that are valued at less than $5 million. Conservatives hate the estate tax because it is one the of the most progressive taxes we have, with 99 percent of its revenue coming from the top 5 percent of tax units.

    Americans must see the GOP for what it really is: a group of stooges for the wealthy. During the 2004 election, President George W. Bush received 44 percent of the votes from those who make under $50,000 a year and 40 percent of the union vote. Those people must now realize that they were deceived into believing the Republican Party was the party that will keep them safe and promote their values. Until they see the truth, conservatives will continue to fight for irresponsible tax cuts and ignore the needs of working Americans.

    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].