In the middle of April, while Americans were still stinging from having filed their income taxes the previous day, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the estate tax, which they like to call the death tax. The legislation passed 239 to 179, with all but three Republicans voting in favor of it, and all but seven Democrats voting against it.
How much further can this legislation go? Should estate planners start telling their clients that maybe they don’t have to jump through so many hoops to protect their assets? After all, the Republicans control not just the House but the Senate as well. And last March, a majority of the senators, 54 of them, went on record as supporting the repeal of the estate tax, as part of a non-binding budget resolution.
So will the repeal go tripping merrily through the Senate and become law? Not so fast. The Democrats seem intent on filibustering any repeal; and they need just 41 votes to stop its passage. Even if the majority of the Senate wants to pass repeal, it would take 60 votes to overcome the filibuster.
There are now 44 Democrats in the Senate, and the socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont and independent Angus King of Maine also caucus with the Democrats. To defeat a filibuster would require the Republicans to flip six of these votes.
Is that a possibility? Senate minority leader Harry Reid has been a longtime supporter of the estate tax. In 2008, he opposed a measure to raise the exemption level from $1 million to $5 million.
Reid has announced he will retire and not run for re-election in 2016. That means he will probably carry a significant amount of goodwill as his senate career winds down. Just one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined with the 53 Republicans who supported repeal in March.