Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 5, 2017
In my more aimless moments, I continue to wonder about how conservative Republicans, in this case, view the world. If they got their way totally, how would they see an ideal world?
Of course, we’re see such the beginnings of just such a vision in today’s Washington, in the divisiveness of the tax bill or in a certain uncaring that comes with eliminating health care access or the refusal to see the importance in issues like job training. But those reactions may be more a reflection of my own disagreement with the results.
This weekend, however, we got a direct, somewhat startling wake-up slap from Sen. Charles Grassley, an influential Iowa senator who used an interview with The Des Moines Register to explain Republicans’ passage of the Senate version of tax cuts.
The Register was doing the article to explore the effect of increasing exemptions from the estate tax — the so-called death tax — among state residents whose estates are currently worth more than $5.5 million for individuals and double that for couples. Basically, the Senate increases exemptions, and the House version eliminates any payments. Heirs would inherit such properties tax free.
Grassley said wiping out the estate tax means that people should use their money more wisely. “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies,” Grassley said.
Wow. There it is, class separation, if not warfare, complete with stereotype, sexism, elitism and uncaringness all wrapped in one single statement.
So, conservatives will move heaven and earth to leave individuals, business people and companies free of regulations in the name of individual liberty. But this man wants to sit in judgment of how people spend their money, how they live, skipping over the very hardships that might drive a tax break program.
In any case, it reads as a judgment. Grassley’s divisive remarks that people not currently affected by the estate tax are profligate and not-so-vaguely unworthy.
Grassley’s comment triggered criticism on social media. Many complained that the working class is, in fact, spending “every darn penny” on raising their kids, caring for elderly parents, health care and putting food on the table. One Twitter user complained that the GOP was turning America into a version of “The Hunger Games.”
Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a previous chairman of the and current member of the Senate Finance Committee; he’s not a raw newcomer who trips over his words.
The Register said that the estate tax break will affect only “dozens” among 1.4 million Iowa taxpayers, according to IRS data, because almost all estates fall under the current exemption cap. The newspaper noted that the number of Iowans owing estate taxes was 32 of 1.4 million taxpayers in 2012 — or .002 percent of the total. Sixty-one people — .004 percent of all Iowa taxpayers — filed estate taxes in 2015.
Only a fraction of those were farmers or small business owners, the newspaper reported.
Currently, only 0.2% of taxpayers pay the estate tax and will benefit from the changes. The House measure would drop all estate tax of any size by 2024. The Senate and House measures will have to be reconciled.
The difference in the Senate and House bills would have to be reconciled as the legislation moves forward.
The Iowa senator’s comments drew criticism by a number of Democratic strategists for their harsh portrayal of how people spend money. “Darn straight, Sen. Grassley. if we gave that money in middle class tax cuts, they’d just waste it on hookers and blow, right?,” Jesse Ferguson, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, tweeted.
Grassley has long argued that estate taxes hurt farms and small businesses in the state. Now, the Iowa senator apparently sees the tax change as a way to reward those who have accumulated millions of dollars by “investing.” Grassley said earlier this year that the federal estate tax “may force family members to liquidate to pay the death tax.”
Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) both applauded the changes in the estate tax and emphasized how the changes would help farms and small businesses. Young insisted in a newsletter Friday that it is a “myth” that “repealing the estate tax is a massive giveaway to the wealthiest Americans.”
My aimless wondering will have to continue on issues like the environment, health and individual liberty. On this score, I know exactly the kind of world that conservative Republicans see — defending individualism if it helps rich people.