You're busted, Bill Gates!
Listen up, D.C.

GOP math: $5.15 = $5 million

When do the concerns of workers making $5.15 an hour at Wal-Mart converge with the concerns of the Walton family that owns the stores?

Capitol_small_1 When Washington, D.C., says so.

Early this morning, while most of us (except for those working for that $5 rate at a 24-hour convenience store) caught some Zs, the House of Representatives voted to increase the minimum wage as long as more multimillionaires are assured they won't face estate tax bills when grandpa buys leaves them the farm.

Or, as one Republican Representative told his Democratic colleagues during the early morning floor debate, "You have seen us outfox you on this issue tonight."

Maybe. Maybe not.

There are still some 'I dos" to be said over on the Senate side of Capital Hill for this shotgun marriage to be declared official. And there likely will be just enough who stand up and say they have reason to object to the union.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate call the minimum wage/estate tax bill legislative blackmail designed to give Republicans some campaign demagoguery for the coming midterm elections.

Such "see what I did for you" political statements when Congress goes home for what it calls a month-long district work period in August (or what the Europeans call an annual summer vacation), also will include proud proclamations of other breaks aimed at middle-class taxpayers.

The estate tax cut/minimum wage hike bill also calls for continuation of deductions for college tuition and state sales taxes, which expired on Dec. 31, 2005, that have bipartisan support in Washington and across the country.

The GOP leadership is betting that these popular tax cuts and increase of the minimum wage to $7.15 by 2009 will be just enough sugar to get Senate Democrats to swallow the bitter-tasting provision to exempt estates up $5 million from the estate tax.

We'll see. The estate tax cut effort has faced consistent resistance, albeit by a razor thin margin, in the Senate. Democrats there say they will not be swayed by this latest maneuver, which saddles the U.S. Treasury with a 10-year, $300 billion bill.

"The Senate has rejected fiscally irresponsible estate tax giveaways before and will reject them again," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)."Blackmailing working families will not change that outcome."

I hope Reid is right.

Congressional misuse of the system to piggyback unrelated legislation in an effort to slip measures through for political expediency is a travesty. It gives cover to those who don't have the guts to stand up and vote how they, or their constituents, really want because they can say "I did it because I also support [insert more-acceptable legislation here]."

I realize that trade-offs in life are necessary. That we all must compromise sometimes. But I also believe my mother was right when she told me that the ends do not justify the means.

When a system, and particularly our system of government, is jobbed to achieve the goals of a few at the expense of many -- and believe me, any time one group of people is given a major tax cut (in this case the uber-wealthy), that tax shortfall is going to eventually be recouped from someone else in the form of added taxes or reduced services -- the ends and the means are irreparably damaged.

And we are a lesser nation for it.

Estate tax battle background: You can read more on the estate tax and recent Congressional votes to repeal or change it in these previous posts: A tax by any other name (June 12), Day of the Death Tax (June 22) and It's baaaacccckkkk! Maybe... (July 25).



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