One problem with talking about the “Bush tax cuts” is that they incorporate much more than just the individual income tax marginal rates. Among other things, you have the changes to the estate tax. And so today, House Democrats plan to introduce an estate tax measure that would freeze the tax at 2009 levels.
In their release, Ways and Means Democrats said their proposal, which would increase the top estate tax rate back to 45 percent and lower the exemption to $3.5 million, would shield 99.7 percent of estates from any liability.
The current top rate is 35 percent, with a $5 million exemption, indexed for inflation after 2011. Unless Congress acts, the estate tax will revert to a $1 million exemption and a 55 percent top rate.
House Republicans have prepared a bill that, much like a similar GOP proposal in the Senate, would continue the current estate tax parameters for another year. The House is expected to vote on that measure next week, as well as an alternative modeled after the Senate Democratic package.
What House Democrats won’t tell you is that the 2009 levels are the lowest of the 10-year Bush-era changes to the estate tax. Under Bill Clinton, the estate tax had that 55% top rate and $1 million exemption. The thresholds gradually rose and the rate gradually dropped, and then the estate tax disappeared in 2010, before the deal in the 2010 tax cut deal created the new, $5 million exemption.
So what House Democrats are actually proposing is a cut in the estate tax from current law, as the tax would have reverting back to the Clinton rates. As they note, almost nobody pays the estate tax , and that was true under Clinton as well. So this