Members of the Senate indicated Wednesday that they will support a strategy for cutting estate taxes that is acceptable to life insurance industry groups.

Senators voted 51-41 to reaffirm their support for the estate tax reduction language included in the continuing budget resolution they passed March 23. That provision would establish the current-law 2009 estate tax rules – which call for a $3.5 million-per-person exemption and a top tax rate of 45% — as the rules that will prevail through 2012.

Support for the estate-tax provision may have firmed since March 23, when senators voted 51-48 to support that approach to cutting estate taxes.

Under current law, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 would phase out the estate tax in 2010. Then, in 2011, the individual exemption would spring back down to $1 million, and the top tax rate would spring back up to 55%.

The Wednesday vote on estate tax cuts was part of the Senate’s efforts to develop instructions for the conferees who will be working with House conferees to develop the next 5-year budget resolution.

Under regular order, appropriations bills need 60 votes to get through the Senate.

When appropriations bills follow budget resolution guidelines, they can get through the Senate with majority votes.

The House and the Senate already have passed their own versions of the continuing budget resolution.

Once the House and Senate conferees hammer out a final compromise version of the resolution, the final version must be approved by both the House and the Senate.

On Wednesday, Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, got the ball rolling on the estate tax issue by proposing a conferee instruction that would have set the individual exemption at $5 million and capped the top marginal rate at 35%.

The Kyl instruction passed the Senate 59-41.

Senators then effectively negated the vote on the Kyl proposal by acting on a motion by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Conrad called for senators to approve a conferee instruction based on the estate tax provision included in the Senate version of the continuing budget resolution.

The House version of the budget resolution does not discuss the estate tax issue.