Record: July 11, 2000 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
DEATH TAX ELIMINATION ACT--MOTION TO PROCEED
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Chair lays
before the Senate the pending cloture motion, which the clerk will
state. The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:
We the undersigned Senators, in accordance with the
provisions of rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate,
do hereby move to bring to a close debate on the motion to
proceed to Calendar No. 608, H.R. 8, a bill to amend the
Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to phase out the estate and
gift taxes over a 10-year period:
Trent Lott, Bill Roth, Charles Grassley, Larry E. Craig,
Chuck Hagel, Jeff Sessions, Pete Domenici, Strom
Thurmond, Jon Kyl, Thad Cochran, Jim Bunning, Craig
Thomas, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Susan M. Collins, Don
Nickles, and Wayne Allard.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. By unanimous consent, the quorum call has been
The question is, Is it the sense of the Senate that debate on the
motion to proceed to H.R. 8, a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code
of 1986 to phase out the estate and gift taxes over a 10-year period,
shall be brought to a close?
The yeas and nays are required under the rule.
The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
The yeas and nays resulted--yeas 99, nays 1, as follows:
[Rollcall Vote No. 173 Leg.]
The PRESIDING OFFICER. On this vote, the yeas are 99, the nays are 1.
Three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the
affirmative, the motion is agreed to.
Mr. ROTH. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Enzi). The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The Senator from Montana.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that upon
disposition of the Interior appropriations bill, the Senate proceed to
the consideration of the China PNTR legislation and that the first
amendment in order to the bill be Senator Thompson's China sanctions
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, obviously,
the PNTR bill is an extremely important bill. This body understands
that. Certainly those of us on this side of the aisle who have been the
force for expanding trade in this world, who have been basically the
majority vote of things the President has wished to do--for example, on
the African free trade agreement and on NAFTA, two areas where it was
really our side of the aisle that carried the ball for the
administration, as they tried to open our trade opportunities across
the world--are strongly supportive of the concept of PNTR.
But there is still a fair amount of work that has to be done before
we can bring it to the floor. Specifically, as was alluded to, there is
the Thompson amendment, which would be nice to be able to deal with
independent of PNTR. There are also other issues which we are going to
have to address before the PNTR is ripe for consideration.
So at this point I would have to object, although it is clearly the
intention of our side of the aisle to bring up the PNTR issue and to
hopefully pass it, as we did with NAFTA and as we did with the African
free trade agreement. So I object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, I hope the majority side will not object.
PNTR transcends all other issues that are before the Senate. It is an
international issue. It is a public policy, a foreign policy issue, one
which clearly falls in the category of politics stopping at the water's
This measure is monumental in its implications. It must pass. The
sooner it passes, the better. Delay is danger. We all know that our
relations with China are extremely important but also tenuous. The more
this issue is delayed, the more likely it is that some untoward,
unanticipated, unexpected event might occur which would deteriorate
relations between our two countries and make it more difficult to pass
a very needed piece of legislation.
I understand the majority's concern about scheduling, about
appropriations bills, about other matters. But I strongly urge the
majority party and the leader of the majority party, who correctly sets
the schedule, to put politics beyond this, to put policy, public
interest, and national security above all the other concerns that are
legitimate here in the Senate because once PNTR is set for a vote this
month, I predict that the logjam will break. It will be easier then to
take up other measures.
I very strongly urge the Senator from New Hampshire to pass the word
on to the majority leader, and others, of the importance of bringing
this bill up in July--this month, a date certain--so we can begin to
establish a relatively comprehensive and solid relationship with the
country that is going to be probably one of the most important
countries that this country is going to be dealing with in this next
century. It is absolutely critical.
Several Senators addressed the Chair.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Democratic leader.
Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, I commend the distinguished senior
Senator from Montana for making the point again, with his unanimous
consent request this morning, that we are simply asking for a date
I am concerned that this issue, as was discussed and reported
yesterday, could slip into September. If it slips into September, it
might not be considered at all. In September there will be little
opportunity to confront what we know is going to be a difficult
challenge for us in terms of procedural factors in the consideration of
So I have a very deep concern about this legislation slipping. This
needs to be done this month. It ought to be done this week. We are
going to continue to press for its consideration. I applaud the Senator
from Montana in his willingness to do it.
There is an array of legislation that has been left undone. We will
call attention to those issues as often as we can to encourage and to
welcome the involvement and participation on the other side.
Another issue is the H-1B bill. It has been languishing now for a
long period of time. I have expressed a willingness to cut down the
amendments that we
know are pending on the H-1B bill from the scores, maybe even over 100
amendments that could be offered to 10 amendments with time limits--
with time limits. We would be willing to consider the H-1B bill with a
time limit on each amendment, taking it up as soon as possible, in an
effort to get that legislation passed as well. For whatever reason, the
majority has continued to refuse to allow us consideration of the H-1B
legislation as well.
The Patients' Bill of Rights, the prescription drug bill, the minimum
wage bill, education amendments, the juvenile justice legislation--
there is a legislative landfill, that gets larger and larger, in large
measure because of the reluctance and outright opposition on the part
of some of our colleagues on the other side to deal with these issues
in a constructive manner in order that we may complete them yet this
Mr. DASCHLE. So, Mr. President, I again ask unanimous consent that
upon the disposition of the Interior appropriations bill, the Senate
proceed to the consideration of S. 2045, the H-1B visa bill, that it be
considered under the following time agreement: One managers' amendment;
that there be 10 relevant amendments per each leader in order to the
bill; that relevant amendments shall include those related to H-1B,
technology-related job training, education and access, and/or
immigration; that debate on those amendments shall be limited to 30
minutes, equally divided in the usual form, and that relevant second-
degree amendments be in order; that upon the disposition of the
amendments, the bill be read a third time and the Senate vote on final
The unanimous consent request would allow us to complete the H-1B
bill in one day--one day. So I am hoping our colleagues will agree to
this. I ask that unanimous consent at this time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, the H-1B
bill happens to be a priority of this side of the aisle. I would be
happy to move to this if we could move to the H-1B bill. Unfortunately,
the Democratic leader isn't proposing that we move to the H-1B bill.
What the Democratic leader is proposing is that we move to an
extraneous agenda attached to the H-1B bill, that we bring to this bill
debate on all sorts of issues which have no relevance to H-1B. In fact,
we have offered, on this side of the aisle, to bring up the H-1B bill
with relevant amendments. That has not been accepted by the other side
of the aisle.
We are continuing to be agreeable to bringing up the H-1B bill with
relevant amendments. There is no question but that we should pass the
H-1B bill. I do sense a touch of crocodile tears coming from the other
side of the aisle because, as a practical matter, almost all the bills
that are listed as being held up, such as the education bill--the PNTR
is a little different class, but the H-1B bill, for sure--are being
held up not because of the underlying bill, not because the underlying
issue is in contest as to whether or not we should take it up--we are
perfectly willing to take up those issues on this side of the aisle and
have propounded a series of unanimous consent requests to accomplish
exactly that--but it is because there is a whole set of other agenda
items, which the Democratic leader has a right to and desires to bring
up, but he cannot bring them up on those bills and then claim he is
bringing up those bills, because he is not bringing up those bills;
what he is bringing up is those bills plus an agenda as long as my arm
of political issues that they wish to posture on for the next election.
If he wishes to bring up the H-1B bill with three relevant
amendments, or even five relevant amendments, on each side, we would be
happy to accept that type of approach.
I have to object to the present proposal, but I would be happy to
propound a unanimous consent which limits discussion to relevant
amendments, if the Democratic leader is willing to pursue a course of
bringing up H-1B with relevant amendments. On the proposal as laid out
by the Democratic leader, I object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.
The Democratic leader has the floor.
Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, to respond, I don't know what would be
nonrelevant about technology-related job training. Is that relevant to
H-1B? Of course, it is. I don't know what would be nonrelevant about
technology-related education amendments. What could be nonrelevant
about a technology-related education and access amendments? What is
nonrelevant about immigration amendments? We are talking about the
possibility of allowing 200,000 new immigrants to enter our country to
work. We want to offer amendments we feel are relevant to H-1B, and we
are not allowed.
Senators want to be Senators. In the Senate, we offer amendments to
bills. We want to get this legislation passed as well. In the true
tradition of the Senate, we ought to be able to offer amendments,
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, if the Senator will yield for a question,
that is our position.
Mr. DASCHLE. I am happy to yield to the Senator from New Hampshire
for a question.
Mr. GREGG. If the Senator's position is he is willing to allow
relevant amendments, then we can develop a unanimous consent request
which says ``relevant amendments.'' Is that the Senator's position? The
Senator just used the world ``relevant'' three times to describe the
amendments he would propound. Therefore, it should not be a problem for
the Senator to offer relevant amendments.
Mr. DASCHLE. Does the Senator from New Hampshire not think these
issues are relevant?
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, I always allow the Parliamentarian to
determine relevancy, as the Democratic leader has always allowed the
Parliamentarian to determine relevancy. That is why, when we use the
term ``relevant,'' if we both agree on the term ``relevant,'' let's put
it in the unanimous consent request and move forward.
Mr. DASCHLE. I am more than happy to deal with relevant amendments.
Of course, as the Senator from New Hampshire knows, according to the
strict definition of the word ``relevance,'' our amendments would have
to be related specifically to H-1B. He is unwilling to talk about
relevant amendments as we understand it in the English language. Under
the common understanding of the English language, ``relevance'' would
allow the consideration of an immigration-related amendment during the
H-1B debate because the H-1B bill is an immigration bill. It would
allow technology-related education amendments to be considered relevant
to the H-1B bill in this context. Certainly, technology-related job
training amendments would be ``relevant'' under our common
understanding of that term, but you can hide behind those specific
defenses if you like. Again, I am happy to yield.
Mr. GREGG. Is it the position of the Senator that the Senate does not
function under the English language?
Mr. DASCHLE. It is the position of this Senator that the term
``relevant'' fits the amendments that we have attempted to offer. Of
course, the reason why our colleagues don't want to deal with these
issues is not because they are not relevant. It is because they don't
want to vote on immigration issues. They don't want to vote on
education. They don't want to vote on technology-related job training.
They have a take-it-or-leave-it approach to consideration of important
legislation such as this.
We can go back to the time when they were in the minority. Relevance
was never a question then for them. Then relevance was something they
considered and accorded the right of every Senator, just as we are now
advocating. We are talking about relevance. We are talking about the
importance of relevant amendments.
Mr. KENNEDY. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. DASCHLE. I am happy to yield to the Senator from Massachusetts.
Mr. KENNEDY. In response to the Senator, one of the amendments is to
try to make sure that in the future there is going to be adequate
training so we are not going to have to offer these jobs necessarily to
immigrants, but they would be available to Americans who do not have
those skills. To make an argument on the floor of the Senate that we
are going to deny American workers the kind of training
to get these high-paying jobs and participate in the expanding economy
is just preposterous. That evidently is what the Senator from New
Hampshire is doing. That is one of the key amendments that has been
objected to by the Republicans.
This is what we are trying to do, to have training programs that are
basically structured or organized, or education in the computer
sciences through the National Science Foundation, through existing
training programs so that we are not duplicating other training
programs. It has been objected to.
I commend our leader. These are common sense amendments to an issue
which can mean a great deal in an expanding economy and can make a
great difference to American workers.
I cannot understand--I do understand because I think the Senator has
been correct--why our Republican friends are constantly objecting to
common sense measures which are absolutely relevant and absolutely
essential in terms of the H-1B issue.
Mr. DASCHLE. The Senator from Massachusetts is absolutely right. He
said it so eloquently. This is a relevance issue. Whether or not we
continue to allow immigrants who come in to meet certain skill demands
in this country is directly relevant to whether or not we are going to
have an educated workforce. It is directly relevant to whether or not
we are going to put the resources forward to train American workers in
order to ensure that we might someday fill these jobs with workers from
this country. If that is not relevant, I really don't know what is.
I yield to the Senator from North Dakota.
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I appreciate the Senator from South Dakota
yielding. Since the Senator from New Hampshire wants to discuss the
meaning of the term ``relevant,'' as the Senator from New Hampshire
knows, the rules of the Senate have words that are used and interpreted
in very narrow and unique ways. The term ``relevant'' has a very narrow
meaning here in the Senate by which we make a judgment about which
amendments might be in order. But the term ``relevant'' is not related
to common sense, in the Senate at least.
Let me give an example. On the issue we were talking about this
morning, the estate tax repeal proposed by our friends on the other
side of the aisle, the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans would benefit to
the tune of $250 billion in 10 years. Now, if one says, as they
propose, let's give a $250 billion tax exemption to the 400 wealthiest
Americans as identified in Forbes magazine, and if we say, we have
another idea for that tax repeal--instead of giving that tax relief to
the 400 wealthiest Americans, let us instead give it to middle-income
families with an enlarged tax credit for tuition so they can send their
kids to college; or let us widen the 15-percent bracket to enable more
families to take advantage of that low rate; or let us enact a
prescription drug benefit for people who need prescription drug
coverage--in short, if we propose a different way to use that revenue
that in our view would be more effective and more important, we are
told that is not relevant. You can't offer that, we hear. That is not
Of course it is relevant. My colleague just talked about common
sense. Someone once described common sense as genius dressed in work
clothes. There is no common sense on the issue of relevancy with
respect to the Senate rules. Yet that is exactly the shield behind
which they want to hide on these issues.
We have a right to offer amendments. We have a right to offer
amendments that relate to the subject at hand. The proposal by the
majority side is to prevent us from that opportunity. Our reaction to
that is, ``Nonsense.'' We have a right to do that. We have an absolute
right to do that, as Members of the Senate.
Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, reclaiming the floor, let me end by
saying again, I am disappointed.
I note the Senator from New Hampshire offered a sense-of-the-Senate
resolution relating to Social Security on the Commerce-State-Justice
bill in the last Congress. There was no concern then about whether it
was relevant or not. Our distinguished majority leader offered an
amendment relating to prayer in schools and at memorial services on the
juvenile justice bill last year. Again, there was no concern about
relevance. Senator Helms offered an amendment that some of us may
recall having to do with a patent for the Daughters of the Confederacy
on the community service bill. He also offered a Lithuanian
independence resolution on the Clean Air Act. Senator Nickles offered
an amendment to require a supermajority for tax increases on the
unemployment insurance extension. Senator Roth has offered tax cuts on
There is a lot of interesting history having to do with relevance and
amendments that may or may not pertain directly to the bill under
Senate consideration. That is all we are asking.
What is even more noteworthy is the fact that we are willing to limit
ourselves to 10 amendments with time limits. You can't do much better
than that. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If we
could accommodate our distinguished colleagues in the past when they
have offered amendments, certainly they should accommodate us. That is
why the relevancy issue is so important here.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Hampshire.
Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, the issue being debated and brought forward
by the minority leader was that he wanted to take up and discuss H-1B.
The presentation was for the purpose, at least formally it appeared, of
taking up the H-1B issue. We are willing to take up the H-1B issue. And
we are willing to do it with relevant amendments. Now, the other side
says that is not the English language and it is not common sense to use
the term ``relevant.'' That term has been used for the past 200 years
in this body, and I think it is reasonable to continue to use it.
On a number of occasions, we have presented unanimous consent
requests asking that we be allowed to take up the H-1B legislation with
relevant amendments. In fact, the Democratic leader said specifically
that the amendments he was talking about would be relevant. He used the
term ``relevant.'' I understand that was more in the context of not
necessarily the Senate, but in any event he used the term ``relevant.''
Right now, I am going to propound a unanimous consent request. I ask
unanimous consent that it be in order for the majority leader, after
consultation with the Democratic leader, to proceed to Calendar No.
490, S. 2045, the H-1B legislation, and it be considered under the
Three relevant amendments per each leader in order to the bill; No
other amendments in order other than second-degree amendments which are
relevant to the first-degree amendments.
I further ask unanimous consent that following the disposition of the
above amendments, the bill be read the third time and the Senate
proceed to a vote on passage, with no intervening action or debate.
The purpose of this unanimous consent request is to bring up the H-1B
visa issue, which I believe should be brought to the floor with
Mr. REID. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, we have
certainly made clear that in 1 day we would totally complete the debate
on this legislation. Under the unanimous consent agreement we have
offered, in 1 day we would be completed with H-1B. In fact, in the time
we have spent procedurally trying to get this done, we would have
already finished two amendments.
I think we would be much better off treating the Senate as the
Senate. My friend from New Hampshire said for 200 years there has been
a meaning of ``relevance'' in the Senate. Of course, that is true. It
has changed under different precedents that have been set, but we think
the one thing that has not changed--but they are trying very hard to
change it--is how debate proceeds in the Senate. We are willing to even
change how we feel we should proceed. We believe H-1B should be brought
up and that debate should be completed on it. We would be through with
that probably in 2 days. We are willing to cut that back to 1 day. I
respectfully say that I object and I offer again, without restating it,
the unanimous consent request.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. The Senator from New
Hampshire has the floor.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I suggest to my friend from New Hampshire
that he strongly consider the agreement we have offered--that H-1B be
brought up and debate be completed in 1 day. That is what we should do.
It would be better for the Senate and for the country.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware is recognized.
Mr. ROTH. Mr. President, what is the regular order?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Debate on the motion to proceed on the bill
under cloture, with 30 hours of debate for consideration.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask my friend this, without his losing the
floor. There are a number of Senators here to speak postcloture and
debate the motion to proceed. Perhaps, we can agree on some order that
people could speak. On your side, you have seven Senators and we have
about the same number. Each person is entitled to 1 hour. People on our
side would be willing--with the exception of one Senator--to take 30
minutes. I wonder if it is agreeable.
Mr. ROTH. Thirty minutes a person?
Mr. REID. Yes, instead of the 1 hour to which they are entitled. I
wonder if you would agree to alternate back and forth--the majority and
Mr. ROTH. I think we can agree to alternate back and forth; but as to
who, at this time, we are not certain in what order. I will go ahead,
and why don't we have some informal discussions to see how we proceed
Mr. REID. That is appropriate. In the meantime, our people will
Mr. ROTH. Mr. President, I rise today in support of the majority
leader's motion to proceed to H.R. 8, the Death Tax Elimination Act of
2000, which overwhelmingly passed in the House by a vote of 279-136. As
I pointed out before, that vote of 279 included 65 Democrats. So it
was, indeed, a bipartisan vote in support of this legislation.
Before going into the details of the legislation, I'd like to talk
about the rationale for this bill and the debate around it.
Some ask why are we concerned about the death tax. Only 2 percent of
estates pay the tax. Many of those taxpayers have the resources to
minimize the tax. Even if they have to pay the tax at rates approaching
60 percent, the balance of the estate is available for the
beneficiaries. The other 98 percent of estates need not worry about it.
Those in this position also argue that the revenue raised by the estate
tax is better spent on Federal programs than kept by the children.
I guess it all depends on your perspective. The opponents of death
tax repeal look at an estate as a thing, such as money or property,
detached from the person that created it. From their view, it is a
valuable resource for an ever-expanding Federal Government.
There is another view. If you look behind the statistics and revenue
figures, you will see an estate as something that represents a lifetime
of actions by the individuals and families. Every day a person makes
decisions to sacrifice, work harder, and save. And every day these
hardworking families are taxed on what they earn. Over a lifetime, this
daily dedication adds up. It is natural that the families who created
the wealth, by a lifetime of working hard and paying taxes, would want
the benefit of their work to go to their families. That is, to stay
within the family rather than be broken up and sent to Washington.
I take this latter view. Coming from a small state, like Delaware, I
meet a lot of small business people and farmers. Everybody knows how
hard these folks work, and if they are successful, they are in the
position to pass along a family business or farm to their families. The
death tax is a serious obstacle to these family farmers and small
business people. Not only is a major portion of their hard work taken
by the Federal Government, and spent here in Washington, DC, but the
need for cash to pay the tax often ends up causing a sale of the farm
or small business.
It is this fundamental unfairness, with particular grief inflicted on
family farms and small business at the worst possible time, that, I
believe, has resulted in bipartisan support for repealing the death
tax. Nine Senate Democrats and 65 House Democrats, better than 20% of
the Democratic caucuses of each body, support repeal of the death tax.
You're going to hear that family farmers and small businesses are
already protected from the current death tax. Thanks to the Taxpayer
Relief Act of 1997, we, on this side of the aisle, won a hard fought
concession for estate and gift tax relief. Under that legislation, a
family farm or small business couple can shield up to $2.6 million, on
a phased in basis, from the death tax. Since that legislation became
law, however, I have heard that the provision is technically and
practically difficult for family farmers and small businesses to use.
It seems that the better and simpler approach is to rid our family
farmers and small businesses of the burden of this tax.
I'd like to turn to the bill before us.
The bill is substantially similar to the estate tax provisions in the
tax bill that was vetoed by the President last year. Some may ask why
this House bill did not come through the Finance Committee. The reason
is that the bill holds to the estate tax provisions the House and
Senate agreed to last year. Since the Finance Committee has already
debated and approved these provisions and we have negotiated these
provisions with the House, I saw no need to process the bill in the
There are really two time periods to which the bill applies. In the
first period, generally from 2001 to 2009, estate tax relief is
provided on several fronts. In the second period, beginning in 2010,
the whole estate and gift tax regime is repealed.
During the first part, from 2001 to 2010, the estate and gift tax
rates are reduced on both the high end and low end. On the low end,
currently, there is a unified credit that applies to the first $675,000
of an estate. That amount is scheduled to rise to $1 million in 2006.
While current law provides some relief for the smallest estates, for
modest estates, those above the credit amount, a high tax rate applies.
For example, now a decedent's estate of $750,000 faces a tax rate of 37
percent on each dollar over the credit amount. Keep in mind that's
where the rate starts. For larger estates, the rates can be as high as
For the lower-end estates, the bill converts the unified credit to an
exemption. What this means is that estates right above the unified
credit amount, will face tax rates starting at 18 percent rather than
37 percent. In other words for modest size estates, this bill cuts the
tax rate in half.
For the larger estates, some now facing marginal rates as high as 60
percent, the bill includes a phased in rate cut. The rates are reduced
from the current regime, with its highest rate of 60 percent, down to a
top rate of 40.5 percent for the highest end estates. Keep in mind that
the base of the tax is property, not income, and the rate is still
above the highest income tax rate of 39.6 percent.
Prior to full repeal in 2010, the bill would also expand the estate
tax rules for conservation easements to encourage conservation. In
addition, the bill provides some simplification measures for the
generation skipping transfer tax.
In 2010, the whole estate and gift tax regime is repealed. At the
same time, a carryover basis regime is put in place instead of the
current law step up in basis. This means that all taxable estates--
again, I want to emphasize the words ``taxable estates''--that now
enjoy a step up in basis will be subject to carryover basis. Carryover
basis simply means that the beneficiary of the estate's property
receives the same basis as the decedent. For example, if a decedent
purchased a farm for $100,000 and the farm was worth $2,000,000 at
death, the tax basis in the hands of the heirs would be $100,000. The
step in basis is retained for all estates in an amount of up to $1.3
million per estate. In addition, transfers to a surviving spouse would
receive an additional step up in the amount of $3 million.
The House passed the bill on a bipartisan basis with 65 Democrats
voting in favor of repeal of the estate and gift taxes. Now is the
Senate's opportunity to pass this bill on a bipartisan basis and send
it to the President. It is my understanding this will be the only
chance this year that we will have to pass this bill and repeal estate
and gift taxes. If we fail, the bill dies. If we
come together and vote in favor of the House bill--estate tax repeal
that the Congress passed last year--it will go directly to the
President for his signature.
Our family owned businesses and farms must not be denied this relief.
This should not be a partisan issue.
Unfortunately, the White House has indicated its opposition to repeal
of estate and gift taxes and has promised to veto this bill. With
roughly $2 trillion of estimated non-Social Security surpluses over the
next 10 years, I believe the approximately $105 billion cost of
repealing estate and gift taxes to be well within reason--it is only
about 5 percent of the projected budget surplus.
Other than being a money grab--estate and gift taxes do not serve any
legitimate purpose. They certainly don't keep people from dying.
Taxpayers are taxed on their earnings during their lives at least
once. Our nation has been built on the notion that anyone who works
hard has the opportunity to succeed and create wealth. The estate and
gift taxes are a disincentive to succeed and should be eliminated. It
is the right thing to do, and it is the right thing to do now.
It has been said that there are only two certainties: death and
taxes. The two are bad enough, but leave it to the Federal Government
to find a way to make them worse by adding them together. This is
probably the worst example of adding insult to injury ever devised. Yet
Washington perpetuates over and over again on hard working families who
have already paid taxes every day they have worked.
I urge my colleagues to support the motion to proceed to this bill.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from North Dakota is recognized.
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I listened with interest to the discussion
by the Senator from Delaware. This is an issue brought to the floor of
the Senate by those folks who believe that the estate tax ought to be
repealed over the next 10 years--that it ought to be phased in and
repealed completely. They call it a death tax.
There are some things we agree with and other things on which we
don't agree. Let me discuss an area of agreement. I think most Members
of Congress believe the estate tax ought to be reformed in a manner
that prevents a small business or family farm that is being passed from
the parents to the children from having some sort of crippling estate
tax apply to that transfer. I think almost all Members agree that
should not happen. We want to encourage the transfer of a family farm
and a small business to the children. We want to encourage parents
giving their family farm or small business to their children to operate
and keep that small business open. To do that, we ought to provide a
specific exemption for family farms and small businesses. We provide
such an exemption now in current law, but it is not high enough. We
ought to make it high enough so no family farm or small business gets
caught in this web.
I propose $10 million. In fact, I cosponsored a piece of legislation
authored by the Senator from Oklahoma a couple of years ago that had a
$10 million ceiling in it with respect to the estate tax applied to a
family farm or small business. We can increase the exemption so as to
make sure no one has to worry about the interruption of the operation
of a farm or small business. That is not rocket science. We can do
That is not the issue here. We want to offer an amendment to do that.
If we ever get the estate tax repeal bill on the floor, we will offer
an amendment that would say, ``Let's not repeal it; let's instead
provide a substantial increase in the exemption so family farms and
small businesses are not hit with an estate tax.'' So that question is
off the table.
The question now is, will some sort of estate tax remain? In the
newspaper this morning there is a story about a fellow worth about $900
million, a big investor-type from New York. I will not use his name. He
is using his personal money to spend $20 million on television
advertising between now and the November election on the issue of
education, particularly the issue of vouchers with respect to
It is his right to do that. Here is a person who amassed a fortune of
$900 million, according to the newspaper, a terrific amount of money.
He is just short of a billionaire. If that person at some point should
die--and of course, everyone does--and that person's son or daughter
gets an inheritance of $500 million because of the estate tax, who will
stand on the floor and say shame on Congress for taking away part of
that estate through an estate tax.
The question is, Are there some in this country at the upper scale of
income and wealth whom we should expect to be able to pay an estate
tax? They have lived in this wonderful country, enjoyed the bounty of
being an American, been able to become a millionaire, a billionaire.
The wealthiest 400 people, according to Forbes magazine, would get a
$250 billion tax windfall in estate tax reductions under the proposal
for complete repeal. There were 309 billionaires in the United States
in 1999. More than one half of the billionaires in the world live in
the United States. That is not a bad thing. That is a good thing. That
is wonderful. What a great economy. What a great place to live and work
However, we have in this country a tax on estates. The majority has
proposed eliminating the tax altogether, repealing it completely.
According to the Treasury Department, when fully phased in, in the
second 10 years, this would reduce federal revenues by $750 billion. We
on the other hand have proposed to make changes in the estate tax to
provide a sufficient exemption so that no family farm or small business
is caught in the web of estate taxes. But we also believe that we ought
to retain the revenue from some of the largest estates currently taxed
in order to evaluate other possible uses for that revenue.
Incidentally, the motion to proceed to this is a debate about
proceeding to this or something else. Is total repeal of the estate tax
the only thing that represents a priority in Congress? How else might
we use this money, $250 billion, that under the present proposal would
go to the wealthiest 400 people in our country? How else might we use
that $250 billion? What about giving it to working families in the form
of a tax break, an increased tax credit for college tuition to help
parents send their kids to school?
That seems reasonable to me. Or what about the possibility of using
part of it to help pay down the Federal debt? During tough times, if we
have run the Federal debt up to $5.7 trillion, how about during good
times paying it down again? Perhaps we could use part of this revenue
to pay down the debt. Or what about the proposition to use part of this
revenue to provide a prescription drug benefit for those who are on
Medicare? Those Americans who reach their senior years and have the
lowest incomes of their lives are now discovering that the miracle
drugs they need to extend and improve their lives are not available to
them all too often because they cannot afford them. The drugs are
priced out of reach.
Senior citizens have told me in hearings that when they go to the
grocery store they go to the back of the store first because that is
where they sell the prescription drugs. That is where the pharmacy is.
They must go to the back of the grocery store to buy their prescription
drugs to deal with their diabetes and their heart trouble and arthritis
because only then will they know, after they have paid for the
prescription drugs they need, only then will they know how much money
they have to buy food. Only then will they know how much money they
have left to eat.
What about using some of that estate tax revenue to provide a
prescription drug benefit for the Medicare program rather than $250
billion for the richest 400 Americans?
The majority party has said: We intend to demand the repeal of the
estate tax by bringing a bill to the floor, and we don't want to mess
around with your amendments. In fact, the narrow crevice here in the
Senate on relevancy would say it is not relevant for my colleague, the
Senator from Illinois, to offer an amendment and say we are debating
the repeal of $250 billion of tax obligation to the wealthiest 400
Americans, so I have another idea on what we ought to do with that $250
billion. I propose we use it to provide a prescription drug benefit in
the Medicare program. It would only require part of that revenue. But
that is his idea.
Under the narrow rules of the Senate, the majority says that is not
relevant. We are not within the relevancy rules of the Senate, so we
have no right to offer that idea. We have no right to offer that
We will and should have a longer and expanded debate about this
issue. If we have the opportunity to offer amendments and have up-or-
down votes on issues, we will have an opportunity to take away,
forever, the proposition that small businesses or family farms are
going to be caught with an estate tax. We will offer an amendment that
provides a threshold beyond which no family farms or small businesses
will be ever threatened by an estate tax.
That is not going to be the issue. The issue is much narrower than
that. It is, Should we give up the revenue derived from an estate tax
applied to the wealthiest estates in America? Should we give up revenue
that could be used for other things, including reducing the Federal
debt, providing middle-income tax relief, providing prescription drug
benefits, or other urgent needs, or should we only decide our priority
for the $250 billion is to relieve the tax burden on the estate of the
wealthiest Americans? That is the question.
The question we are dealing with this morning is a motion to proceed
to this issue. Proceed to what? Proceed to the estate tax repeal. Shall
we proceed to debate the estate tax repeal? I have another idea. How
about proceeding to debate the issue of prescription drugs in the
That is a bigger priority for me at the moment. Let's get that done.
We have a very limited time between now and the middle of October when
this Congress will complete its work. Let's proceed to do a Patients'
Bill of Rights that gives real protection to patients in the health
care system. Let's enact one that would say to a patient: You have a
right to understand every option for your medical treatment--not just
the cheapest --every option for your medical treatment; you have a
right to that.
Some say we have debated that. Yes, we debated it and passed a
patients' bill of goods, not a Patients' Bill of Rights. It is a hollow
vessel. Let's get that back to the floor. Let's have a vigorous and
aggressive debate. Let's have a discussion about the issues we have
Let's have a discussion about the woman who was hiking in the
Shenandoah mountains and fell off a 40-foot cliff and was taken to an
emergency room with a concussion in a coma and multiple broken bones.
After substantial medical treatment, she survived, only to be told by
her HMO: We are not going to cover your emergency room treatment
because you did not get prior approval to go to the emergency room.
This is a woman who was hauled in on a gurney in a coma and did not
have prior approval for emergency room treatment. Let's talk about
Let's talk about a young boy named Ethan whose physical therapy was
cut off. He was born with cerebral palsy, and it was judged by a
managed care physician, or a managed care accountant, perhaps, that he
had only a 50-percent chance of walking by age 5 and that was
``insignificant": Therefore, the HMO said, we won't cover the
rehabilitation therapy. Think about that. A 50-percent chance of
walking by age 5 for young Ethan was deemed ``insignificant'' and so
the HMO wouldn't cover his rehabilitation therapy. Let's talk about
Pass a motion to proceed to a Patients' Bill of Rights, and we will
talk about these cases and these issues.
Let's talk about the young boy who died at the age 16. Senator Reid
and I had a hearing in Nevada. The young boy's mother told the tragic
story. As she took her seat, she was crying and was holding aloft a
large color picture of her 16-year-old son who had died, having been
denied the treatment he needed to fight his cancer by the managed care
organization. She said with tears in her eyes, holding a picture of her
son aloft: My son looked at me and said: Mom, how can they do this to a
Let's have a motion to proceed to talk about those issues. That is a
priority with me.
This question of a motion to proceed is a question about what is
important, what are our priorities. I say bring a Patients' Bill of
Rights and have an aggressive, full debate. That issue has been in
conference, and the conference has not moved a bit. The last time I
mentioned that one of my colleagues protested: Oh, we have made a lot
of progress. Month after month there has been no progress at all. When
I heard that, I told him at least glaciers move an inch or two a year.
There is no evidence that conference is alive. On a Patients' Bill of
Rights, nothing is happening.
But, boy, take the estate tax repeal, just give some people around
here a whiff of providing some big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans
and, all of a sudden, it is as if they had an industrial strength
Vitamin B-12 shot. There is nothing but scurrying around this Chamber.
Boy, are they excited.
We are excited about some other things. In fact, there are plenty of
ideas for middle-income-tax relief. If we want to talk about tax cuts,
we should be cautious because economists really do not have the
foggiest idea what is going to happen 2, 4, 6, 10 years from now. They
just do not know. We have been through a period in which we think this
economy will never go into reverse; we think the business cycle has
been repealed. It has not. We are going to go through periods of
contraction, and we are going to continue to have economic conditions
that we cannot predict. So we ought to be cautious about predictions of
large, unrelenting surpluses.
Nonetheless, if we have surpluses in the future that are as generous
as now predicted, it is perfectly reasonable for us to be talking about
some targeted tax cuts that will make a real difference in the lives of
people. There are plenty of such areas; repealing the estate tax for
the wealthiest Americans does not rank high among them.
Yes, getting rid of the estate tax for family farms and small
business does rank high. We are prepared to offer that amendment. If
our amendment is adopted, we are not going to have the interruption of
a family farm or small business when it passes from parents to
As I indicated earlier, there are 309 billionaires in this country.
More than one-half of the billionaires--that is with a B--more than
one-half of the billionaires in the world live in the United States.
Good for us and good for them. I am as delighted as I can be with all
that success. Many of them believe as I do that their estate ought to
bear some estate tax when they die, and that estate tax, which we now
receive, can be used for some other productive investments.
Some have an idea--incidentally, I have worked on it some as well. My
colleague from Nebraska has worked on a proposal called KidSave, which
would invest in supplementary savings accounts for children. In fact,
we could develop a proposal which I have worked on that would in which
the largest estates bearing an estate tax would help provide a modest
pool of savings for every baby born in this country who then could
access those savings upon, for example, the completion of high school.
What a wonderful incentive it would be to say to people that if they
pay attention and do their homework and graduate from high school, a
reward will be waiting for them. There are all kinds of ideas. But the
only idea that moves around this Chamber is an idea on that side of the
aisle that says we must repeal the entire estate tax and we must do it
through a vote on this issue in this Chamber and we must do it by
denying the minority the opportunity to offer any significant
Mrs. BOXER. Will my friend yield for a question?
Mr. DORGAN. I will be happy to yield.
Mrs. BOXER. I thank my friend for his eloquence on this point.
Doesn't it really come down to on whose side are you? For whom do you
come here to work? That is what my friend is saying. He is saying that
if we did a fair alternative to the Republicans on this estate tax
repeal, we can take care of those small family businesses, the farms,
the people who have homes and have a lot of investment in them. We can
essentially say only the very wealthiest, the ones who, frankly, owe a
lot to the greatness of this Nation, the opportunity this Nation
provides, their heirs would pay something and they would still wind up
with millions and millions of dollars. My colleague is
saying, maybe even with a little bit of courage around here, we could
target those funds to those who deserve to have the same shot.
I just held in my State of California a very important seminar, which
was a learning experience for me, on the cost of child care and the
availability of important early education. What I learned is that in
California, only one in five kids who need quality child care even has
a slot. For four out of five of the kids, there is not even a slot. And
if one is lucky enough to have a chance at that slot, does my colleague
know what it costs? Almost as much as it does to go to a private
I applaud my friend and ask him this question: Isn't this motion to
proceed really about whose side are we on around here? Are we on the
side of the vast majority of the people who get up every day and work
hard and want a little attention to their problems--prescription drugs,
Patients' Bill of Rights, the things my friend has discussed, quality
education, quality child care--or those who earn in the billions, and I
say billions because that is really who is going to be impacted by this
repeal. I ask my friend that question.
Mr. DORGAN. I think the Senator from California is right. I was
thinking also about the alternatives. We have had a lot of discussion
and will have, I assume, a great deal more discussion on the ability to
pass a family farm on to the children, and I certainly support that.
I want to have an exemption that will prevent the estate tax from
snaring in its web the passage of the family farm from parents to
I will say to my friends who raise these issues, if you want to help
family farmers, we have an amendment that will enable you to do that.
But then you go further and say: We want to provide the richest 400
people in America a $250 billion tax break during the second 10 years.
That is triple the amount of money each year that we now spend on the
We have this Freedom to Farm bill which is just devastating family
farmers. Grain prices have collapsed. They have been collapsed for a
long time. Perhaps we could take just a third of the amount of money
they want to give in tax relief to the wealthiest estates in America--
just a third of it--and say: Let's have a farm program that really
keeps family farmers on the farm. It is not a priority for some. See,
that is the problem.
It would be nice, for example--just in terms of what people think
priorities are--if we could all go to an auction sale at some point.
Arlo Schmidt, an auctioneer in North Dakota --he is a wonderful
auctioneer--told me about a young boy about 8 years old who came up and
grabbed him by the leg at the end of an auction sale.
This boy was the son of a farmer whose machinery and land were being
sold. This little boy grabbed the auctioneer around his thigh and, with
tears in his eyes, looked up at him, pointed at him, and said: You sold
my dad's tractor. This little boy was very angry. He said: You sold my
dad's tractor. Arlo said: I patted him on the shoulder and tried to
calm him down a little bit. This was after the action was over. His
dad's equipment was gone, and so on.
The little boy had none of this calming. The little boy, with tears
in his eyes, said: I wanted to drive that tractor when I got big.
The point is, we have a lot of things happening in this country that
relate to family values and our economy and to what kind of country we
are. One of them I care a lot about, because I come from a farm State,
is the health of our family farmers and their ability to make a decent
For those who would come to the Senate and say, let's get rid of the
entire estate tax, I would say, regarding the wealthiest estates in our
country, for you to flex your muscles and exert your energy to lift the
burden of the estate tax from estates worth $1 billion, I do not
I do not understand it when we have so many other needs, such as the
need for income tax relief for middle-income families --not the wealthy
estates--the need to enact a family farm program so the farmers have a
decent chance to make a living, the need to adopt a Patients' Bill of
Rights, the need to include a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare
program--and do it soon. There are so many needs, and what you have
done is elevate the need for lifting the burden of the estate tax on
the largest estates in our country, saying: That is job No. 1. That is
Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. DORGAN. I am happy to yield.
Mr. DURBIN. The Senator made reference to an alternative to the
Republican proposal to eliminate the estate tax. I am reading from this
alternative. I would like to have the comment of the Senator from North
Dakota. The Democratic alternative to change the estate tax would
increase the exemption from $1.3 million per couple to $2 million per
couple by 2002, and to $4 million per couple by 2010; meaning, if your
estate is at $4 million, in the year 2010 you would not pay a single
penny in estate taxes. This would eliminate the tax on two-thirds of
the estates currently subject to tax every year.
The Democratic alternative would also increase the family-owned
business exemption from $2.6 million per couple to twice that, of a
general exemption, to $4 million per couple by 2002 and $8 million per
couple by 2010. This would remove almost all family-owned farms and 75
percent of family-owned businesses from the estate tax rolls.
So the Democratic alternative eliminates two-thirds of the families
paying estate taxes in America, 75 percent of the family-owned
businesses, and virtually all of the family farms under the Democratic
alternative, for a fraction of the cost of the Republican approach.
I think the Senator from North Dakota has made it clear that the
people who are left at that point paying the estate tax, under the
Democratic approach, would include, if I have not mistaken his comment,
the Forbes top 400 wealthiest people in America. They would still be
paying the estate tax.
I would like to ask the Senator from North Dakota if I am not
mistaken. Did he not say that the Republican approach, as opposed to
the Democratic approach, would mean for the top 400 wealthiest people
in America, the Republican tax break would be $250 billion? Was that
the comment made by the Senator from North Dakota? It would be a $250
billion tax break for 400 people in America? That is the Republican
priority that they want to bring to the floor, and not consider
everything else the Senator from North Dakota has raised?
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, the Senator from Illinois is correct.
Let me give you another piece of information. The largest 374 estates
would get an average tax cut of $12.8 million. The largest 1,062 of the
estates in this country--about five-hundredths of 1 percent of the
estates--would get an estimated average tax cut of $7 million each.
The point isn't to say that having made money in this country is
wrong or you should be penalized for it. That is not my point. My point
is not that. This is a wonderful place in which some people do very
well. Many of them who do very well do so because they work day and
night. They have a certain genius --and good for them. There are
others, however, as all of us know, who are fortunate to inherit a
substantial amount of money --and good for them as well.
But our proposition is simple enough; that on those largest estates
in this country--I am talking about the very largest estates--should
there not be the retention of some basic estate tax to create some
revenue that can be used then to invest in the future of this country,
invest in its children, invest in its family farmers, invest in our
senior citizens? Because we now receive that revenue. If we decide to
repeal that revenue, the question is, measured against what? Is this
the most important, or are there other areas that are more important?
That is what we ought to be discussing.
That is why the motion to proceed, I think, is the place to discuss
this. We have on a postcloture motion a number of hours within which we
can discuss this issue. I hope my colleagues will also take some time.
I know it is popular to say: You know something, this is a death tax.
The reason they say that is they have pollsters who poll the words, and
they have discovered that if they use the words ``death tax,'' it is a
kind of pejorative that allows people to believe: Well, OK, let's
repeal the death tax.
It is much more than that. It is a tax on a decedent's estate that
applies at certain levels and at certain times. I would agree with the
majority party, if they say the exemption isn't high enough. It should
be much, much higher. We want to make it much higher. But I would not
agree, and do not agree, if they say: Let us repeal the estate tax
burden on the largest estates in this country.
Again, let me say that there are many who have amassed very
substantial estates who believe we should not repeal the estate tax
burden. Incidentally, a substantial amount of charitable giving in this
country is stimulated by the presence of an estate tax. I would not use
that to justify its presence, but I would say that one additional
result of a total repeal for the largest estates will, I think, have a
very significant impact on foundations and charities in this country.
But we are going to have a very substantial discussion as we move
along. This is a very important issue dealing with a lot of revenue. I
must say, it is interesting that the issue is brought to the floor of
the Senate without even going to the Finance Committee. I would expect
the chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee would express
great concern about that. This is an issue that has just bypassed the
Finance Committee, just being brought right to the floor of the Senate,
with no hearings, no discussions, no markup in the Finance Committee.
It is also a circumstance where the majority leader has indicated he
wants to bring this up, but he does not want people to offer amendments
really. And if they are to offer amendments, he wants them to be
relevant with respect to the decision of relevancy in the Senate, not
with respect to what is relevant or nonrelevant about the subjects that
are on the floor of the Senate.
For example, if the proposal is to substantially cut revenue by
exempting the largest estates in this country from any estate tax
burden, if that is the proposal, it would not be relevant in the Senate
to say: I have another idea. Why don't we retain the tax burden on the
largest estates, exempt the tax burden on the other estates, and then,
instead of costing the extra $50 or $60 billion for the first 10 years
and substantially move over the next 10 years, let's use that
difference to provide a middle-income tax break, or let's use that
difference to provide a larger tax credit for college tuition to send
your children to college. Let's use that difference to provide a
benefit of prescription drugs in the Medicare program. Let's use that
difference to pay down the Federal debt that now exists at around $5.7
trillion--all of those ideas would be out of order and considered,
under the arcane Senate rules, as nonrelevant.
Mr. THOMAS. Will the Senator yield for a unanimous consent request?
Mr. DORGAN. Of course, I yield, without losing my right to the floor.