House-Senate conferees today approved a budget resolution that calls for freezing estate taxes at the 2009 level and also calls for increasing funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan by up to $50 billion over 5 years..

Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a chief negotiator of the compromise budget resolution, told reporters he expects Congress to approve the document by Thursday night.

The House and Senate each has passed its own version of the budget resolution. Members of a conference committee have been working to come up with a compromise version that can be submitted for approval by both chambers and then sent to President Bush for his approval.

The budget resolution is a document that sets guidelines for congressional action on budgets over the next 5 years.

The resolution has no direct effect on government spending, but, in theory, it can ease passage of appropriations measures that meet resolution guidelines.

Current law would phase out the estate tax by 2010, then bring the tax back to 2001 levels in 2011.

The estate tax provision in the budget resolution conference report approved today would freeze estate tax levies at the levels the current law would impose in 2009.

The estate tax exemption would be $3.5 million per spouse, and the maximum tax rate would be 45%.

Insurance industry trade groups representing both underwriters and agents have said in the past that estate tax reform that calls for a per-person exemption of between $2.5 million and $3.5 million and a maximum tax level of 45% would be an “affordable” tax reform that the industry could live with.

The Association for Advanced Life Underwriting, Falls Church, Va., also “is seeking is a reunification of the estate and gift tax exemptions, which would simplify the planning process and provide greater incentive for families to pass assets, particularly business assets, during life instead of at death,” says Jana Barresi, AALU policy and public affairs director.

Mike Kerley, a senior vice president at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls, Church, says Congress is unlikely to act on estate tax reform until after the 2008 elections.

Health insurers, meanwhile, have made increasing SCHIP funding a priority.

The budget resolution conferees have issued a statement rejecting the Bush administration’s proposal for SCHIP funding levels. The budget resolution “instead provides up to $50 billion for expanding coverage and improving children’s health through SCHIP,” conferees state in their report.

“There are an estimated 6 million children eligible but not enrolled in either SCHIP or Medicaid,” the conferees write. “These additional SCHIP funds will expand coverage to uninsured children and ensure states can maintain current caseloads.”