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Taxation

Estate Tax Wars: Pinocchio on Viagra

Blogging Our Great Divide
April 15, 2015

by Josh Hoxie

With outright lies dominating the estate tax debate on Capitol Hill, two Washington Post columnists have incredibly different takes on the untruths of the anti-tax crowd.

This week, the Washington Post published two pieces on the federal estate tax, each drawing very different conclusions about what’s driving the repeal effort. An estate tax vote is expected Thursday in the House of Representatives, a move that will only benefit the nation’s billionaires and multi-millionaires. Yet only one of the two Post writers is able to see the facts for what they are.

On one side is Dana Milbank, longtime syndicated columnist and meticulous centrist, who titles his new piece, “Republicans push for a permanent aristocracy.” He states in no uncertain terms what the impact of estate tax repeal would be: “Never in the history of plutocracy has so much been given away to so few who need it so little.”

Milbank supports his argument with cold hard facts, which he cites to debunk the misleading and often absurd claims made by estate tax opponents. Estate tax repeal will not help low and moderate-income families, just the 5,500 wealthiest families who pay it each year. The $5.4 million exemption ($10.8 for married couples) prevents 99.8 percent of Americans from ever paying any estate tax.

The estate tax is not about protecting farms or small business. Notes Milbank: “In the entire country, only 120 small businesses and farms (100 of them large farms) were hit by the estate tax in 2013.” Plenty of protections exist for those few small businesses and farms impacted and, it’s worth noting, no farm has ever been lost as a result of the estate tax.

Repealing the estate tax really is just about helping the rich at the expense of everyone else. Milbank cites the $269 billion hole created by estate tax repeal and points out that “the 318 wealthiest estates each year — those worth $50 million or more — would see an average windfall of $20 million each.”

On the other side is Glenn Kessler, head of the popular Fact Checker blog at the Washington Post, who titled his piece, “Is the estate tax killing small farms and businesses?”

The answer to Kessler’s question, clear to anyone who takes even a cursory look at the facts, is decidedly no. But despite citing the same facts as Milbank, Kessler is unable to draw that conclusion. He writes instead: “The raw facts may not entirely support the case against the estate tax, but increasingly this does not seem to matter.”

Kessler declines to give a “Pinocchio rating” to the GOP’s claims because, in his words, “the issue of the estate tax has become so unmoored from the facts that it has moved into the realm of opinion.”

How can a column that calls itself “Fact Checker” claim the facts apparently don’t matter? Anti-tax zealots in the GOP have spent decades distorting the facts. Now a fact checker gives them a pass because their deception has reached new heights? As the kids say, SMDH (Shake My Damn Head for non-texters).

The lies from estate tax opponents, that Kessler himself quotes, are proven blatantly false in his article. But instead of giving them the ranking they deserve, “Pinocchio on Viagra,” as fact checkers at the Associated Press and Factcheck.org did (using slightly different language), Kessler gives them a pass. For that matter, he gives fact telling a pass.

Josh Hoxie tracks the debate over the estate tax and other grand divide-related concerns for the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

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