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Press Release

Tom, Can You Give Us a Date?


The job of Senate Majority Leader is never easy. Tom Daschle has it as tough as anyone ever has in that position. His party, the Democrats, control the Senate with only a one-vote margin. He faces a popular Republican president and the House of Representatives remains in Republican control. The position of Majority leader has little institutional power, and Senate rules give individual senators great independence from party leaders.

But one power Daschle holds, as Senate Majority Leader is the power to control the Senate schedule. Last month, Daschle announced that sometime between Memorial Day and July 4th the Senate would hold a vote on permanently eliminating the Death Tax. That is potentially great news for American taxpayers. The Death Tax collects very little revenue, costs the economy more in compliance than it actually collects for the Treasury and diverts billions of dollars worth of capital from productive investments into tax shelters. It is a dumb tax that needs to be buried. Permanently.

The problem is Senator Daschle is a staunch opponent of Death tax repeal. Because eliminating the Death Tax would allow some wealthy families to pass on to their children the capital and wealth they earned during their lifetime – a social evil according to liberal dogma – Daschle would prefer that we keep the tax code complicated, force many family farms to be sold, and keep the tragedy of death a taxable event. Therefore, Sen. Daschle is playing games with the scheduling of the elimination vote. He won’t say exactly when the vote might occur.

Granted, in the world of arcane Senate rules, announcing an exact date on any particular piece of legislation is tough. And, Senator Daschle has thus far failed to gather the votes or a strategy to bring many pieces of important legislation to the Senate floor. The Senate is already far behind schedule on “must-pass” legislation. The Senate has not even passed a budget resolution, which by statute should have been passed by April 1st. (The House has passed their resolution). Daschle has deliberately block Senate consideration on President Bush’s judicial nominees – leaving a growing vacancy crisis on the federal bench.

Even with all the challenges he faces, Sen. Daschle has the power to announce the week the Death Tax vote will occur. If he cares the least bit about bipartisanship, he would make the announcement (ideally after consulting with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott). All observers agree that a substantial majority of the Senate support permanent repeal of the death tax (Estimates range from 54 to 62 senators support full and permanent repeal). The technical rules of the Senate, designed to make spending easy and tax cuts hard, requires that the Death Tax repeal legislation gather 60 votes for passage, so the final outcome of the vote is very much in doubt. There is substantial bipartisan support for this legislation and Senator Daschle could go a long way toward showing good faith by working with Senator Lott and setting a date.

But, one year after he becoming Senate Majority Leader, one thing is clear about Tom Daschle’s tenure; He is not the least bit interested in showing good faith. Hardball, partisan politics is his first and only priority. As he himself has said, “I have one focus, and that is exclusively on maintaining a majority of the Senate – hopefully winning a couple of additional seats – and I will do whatever it takes, within the confines of what is prudent and appropriate, to accomplish that goal.”

So, in all likelihood, Daschle will not announce when the vote will occur until the very last minute and only when he knows he has gathered enough support to keep 60 senators from voting to repeal the Death Tax. Daschle will dole out pork to wavering Democrats to be slipped into the Senate version of the emergency supplemental which is supposed to fund the war on terrorism, in exchange for their promise to oppose permanent repeal. Yes, to stop a tax cut, Daschle will gladly spend your money to buy votes.

But there is a major flaw in Daschle’s strategy, if conservative activists are ready and willing to exploit it. It is Daschle’s extreme partisanship and exclusive focus on maintaining a Democrat majority in the Senate. We need to keep up the pressure on moderate Democrats up for re-election. Already, Citizens for a Sound Economy’s activists have flooded the state offices of many senators showing real citizen support for permanent repeal. Many other groups are doing the same thing. Daschle will respond to political pressure – especially from his own senators.

Our best hope for permanent repeal is to have a set date – at least a set week for the vote and then continue to increase the grassroots pressure. Let’s send a message that we want Senator Daschle to use his power to set a date – and give both sides a fair shot at winning.

Do we in America allow the government to tax people because they die? Tell your senator, backroom deals and partisan election politics should not answer such a basic question about the values of our nation and our government.