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This op-ed originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on August 11, 2005
Imagine working your entire life to build a family business -- a farm, store, motel or restaurant. Every hour you work and every decision you make is with the express goal of growing your business, so you can provide for your family and pass something on to your children. Dutifully, you pay your taxes owed, you weather the droughts, survive the downturns, and, in the end, you come out ahead.
Now enter the death tax. The reality is that the business you've worked so hard to pass on to your family may have to be sold. This may be the only recourse for your loved ones to pay the burdensome taxes on your estate.
Think about it: Your employees will lose their jobs, your community will lose a valuable service, and in a time of grief, your family will be forced to part with a piece of their heritage. This is the harsh and unfair reality of the death tax, and it's why Congress must act soon to permanently repeal it.
The death tax is the cruelest, most unfair tax our government imposes. It is a destructive policy. A typical taxed family spends between $30,000 and $150,000 just planning for the death tax. That's money that could be spent in far more productive ways -- like investing in the businesses these families are trying to protect.
It's also an immoral tax. No policy should forbid hardworking Americans from passing on their assets to a spouse or a child. Our laws should respect private property and the hard work it takes to acquire and accumulate it over the course of a life. Simply put, death should not be a taxable event.
The vast majority of the American people agree that the death tax is bad public policy. A recent survey found that 85% of Americans support eliminating or significantly reducing the tax. This wisdom and common sense has driven action in recent years to reform the tax.
Under current law, the death tax is being gradually phased out and will be completely repealed in 2010. But the law has a sunset provision: The tax will come back to life on Jan. 1, 2011. For those who plan to live beyond Jan. 1, 2011, the current death-tax reform law will do them no good.
With the future uncertain for so many families and businesses, the need for Congress to act today is urgent. I had hoped to bring this critical issue to a vote before the Senate adjourned for the recess, but an anticipated filibuster slowed me from reaching this objective. Therefore, when the Senate returns the first week after Labor Day, I will ask my fellow senators to state their position on this issue, to make it known by casting a vote whether they favor or oppose the death tax. There will be no more hiding on the issue of permanent death-tax repeal.
With one vote, we can eliminate the death tax forever. We can put to rest the financial insecurity and uncertainty that haunts too many American families and businesses. And we can remove a major government roadblock that stands between people who work hard their entire lives and their desire to pass on a piece of the American dream to their children.
Mr. Frist is the Senate Majority Leader.
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