Exclusive–Grover Norquist: Eliminating the ‘death tax’ in Trump’s plan spurs economic growth

Grover Norquist (Screen capture from C-SPAN)

The president of Americans for Tax Reform told Big League Politics President Donald J. Trump’s push to eliminate federal taxes on inheritances as part of his tax reform package is critical to a pro-growth agenda.

“This tax reform package is designed to reduce the tax burden, simplify the code and spur economic growth,” said Grover Norquist, who founded ATR in 1985 at the request of President Ronald W. Reagan.

“Abolishing the death tax does all three,” he said. “It is a key part of pro-growth tax reduction and simplification.”

Norquist said he is also counting on Rep. Kevin Brady (R.-Texas), the chairman House Ways and Means Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over the federal tax code. “Brady has been a leader in the struggle to once and for all kill the death tax.”

Although Karl Marx called for the elimination of inheritance and the left has long celebrated the death tax as a key to creating a more equal society, the tax was established in the United States to raise money for the military.

“The death tax was imposed on Americans to run the Civil War,” Norquist said.

“The war ended, the death tax stayed,” he said. “The good news is that abolishing the death tax has long had the support of more than 70 percent of Americans.  We reject the politics of envy and greed that drive so many other nations.”

The White House has an ambitious plan to pass the president’s tax reform proposal before the end of the year and the beginning of the 2018 tax year. The plan is to have a bill pass out of the House in October, one out of the Senate in November and then, have any differences between the two bills resolved for Trump’s signature in December.

House Republicans took the first step Thursday when they passed a budget bill for fiscal 2018, which allows for Trump’s tax reform plan to be considered on the budget track. In the House this is not an issue because the GOP has an effective majority. However, in the Senate, Republicans can only lose two of their 52 senators, and even then would need Vice President Michael R. Pence to break a 50-50 tie.

Under Senate rules, legislation cannot be brought up for a vote without at least 60 senators voting to end debate. Failure to end debate, or achieve cloture, means the bill can never come to the floor for a vote. Because of this rule, 41 senators can block, or filibuster, any legislation–except for bills considered on the budget track.

Republicans used this tactic in their push to reform President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, but even with the lower vote threshold, the GOP was unable to secure the 50 votes.

In another era of Capitol Hill politics, the real legislative battle was in the House-Senate conference committees, where delegates from each chamber would emerge with a single bill that has to pass each chamber before going to the president’s desk.

With both chambers controlled by the Republicans, the conference is increasingly sidestepped, in favor of one of the chamber simply accepting the other chamber’s text and sending it along.

What has not changed is the challenge of the autumn calendar.

The House only has 24 legislative business days scheduled through the end of the year with significant recesses planned Oct. 14 through Oct. 22 and from Nov. 17 through Nov. 27. The last day the House have slated for legislative business is Dec. 14, which falls on a Thursday, the customary get-away day for House members.

Senators return to Capitol Hill Oct. 16 and the Senate calendar has 44 days open for legislative business, but so much Senate business is dependent on House action that this number is in flux.

Any business carried on passed Dec. 14 would be in the context of agitated lawmakers behaving more like hostages than statesmen. The imagination has not yet come up with a bill that could not pass the House and Senate if voting for that bill meant congressmen and senators could next hit the exits for the intern-driven car parked outside with the engine running ready to take them to the airport.

Often in legislative battles, the field is won or lost based on a single skirmish and for the president’s tax reform plan that skirmish is the debate on whether or not to continues to levy a tax on an individual’s assets over the $5 million exemption.

Everyone would consider an individual worth more than $5 million wealthy, but if the individual owned a farm or ranch or business, the value of land, structures and equipment climbs up to and beyond $5 million easily. This means that the family is forced to sell off the farm, ranch or other business or take out a death tax mortgage in order to pass the enterprise onto the next generation.

The President of the American Business Defense Council Dick Patten told Big League Politics he is trying to get a message to the president through different channels, but he has not been able to confirm it has been received. “What I want him to do is say: ‘The point you are making about this plan saving my family the $4 billion death tax bill from my $10 billion business empire really is the point—thank you for making it.’”

When the ranchers, farmers and small businessmen hear that the death tax would take away 40 percent of the business, he spent a lifetime building, across America people will get it, because it is what is happening to them, too, he said.

“Seventy-two percent of all jobs come from family businesses,” he said.

Phil Kerpen, the leader of American Commitment, told Big League Politics the Democrats led by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. “Chuck” Schumer (D.-N.Y.) are targeting the death tax section of the larger tax reform package because it allows them to revert back to their old playbook and rail against tax cuts for the rich.

“The rest of the bill is really well-balanced and focused on the middle-class and creating a more competitive business environment,” he said.

“Schumer is already going after the ‘estate tax,’ which is what they call it,” Kerpen said.

“All the liberal editorial pages will go nuts, but it is a very flawed political strategy. Every poll, ever, that asked the question in an honest and straightforward way, shows the American people will overwhelmingly support repeal and don’t think there should be a tax at death and that it is unfair and immoral to tax already taxed assets,” he said.

“People pay taxes every day of their lives, so whatever is left over has been taxed repeatedly their entire lifetime—people look at it as a moral issue; They don’t look at it as a class warfare sort of thing—but the Democrats think they do.”

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About Neil W. McCabe 125 Articles

Neil W. McCabe is a Washington-based political journalist and editor. Before joining Big League Politics, he was the Capitol Hill correspondent for Breitbart News, where he also led Breitbart’s political polling operation and wrote up the Breitbart-Gravis polls. McCabe’s other positions include the One America News DC Bureau Chief, a senior reporter at Human Events and a staff reporter at The Pilot, Boston’s Catholic paper. McCabe also was the editor of The Somerville News, The (North Cambridge, Mass.) Alewife and served as an Army combat historian in Iraq. His 2013 e-book The Unfriendly Skies examined how the American airline industry went from deregulation in the late 1970s to come full circle to the highly-regulated, highly-taxed industry it is today.