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Reform Jewish Movement Condemns House Passage of Legislation to Permanently Repeal the Estate Tax

Saperstein: Repealing the tax to allow for massive concentrations of wealth to be passed on tax-free from generation to generation is difficult to reconcile with some of our most precious American values: justice, fairness, opportunity and shared sacrifice.


Contact:
Alexis Rice or Rachel Wainer 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2003 - In response to the passage of H.R. 8, a bill to make the repeal of the estate tax permanent, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), issued the following statement:

This week the House of Representatives changed the tax code to benefit millionaires and billionaires. In doing so, it turned it's back on the needs of the American people. The Congress had already passed a law in 2001 that gradually lowers the estate tax rate and raises the threshold for the exemption until the tax completely disappeared in 2010. But that law calls for the tax to be reinstated the next year (2011) forcing the Congress to assess the impact of repeal and vote on whether to continue it. Now the House of Representatives has voted to make the complete repeal permanent, a decision that will drain $162 billion from our government over the next ten years and $1 trillion by 2023.

The House rejected an alternative from Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), which by exempting estates of up to $3 million per person and $6 million per couple, would have protected 99.6% of all estates from tax. Those families with estates valued at greater than $6 million are not the small family farmers or small business owners that proponents of estate tax repeal claim to be trying to help. They are not the parents of our nation's twelve million children who were left out of the tax cut bill passed by this Congress last month and who desperately need an acceleration of the child tax credit refundability.

By draining federal revenue, which is vitally necessary to ensure the strength of Social Security and Medicare, educate and invest in our children, and secure our homeland, repealing the estate tax will shift more taxes onto middle-income taxpayers, force states and localities to raise taxes significantly, or require major cuts in programs that benefit all Americans. It will also reduce charitable giving to foundations and nonprofit organizations and exacerbate the already wide divide between rich and poor.

We wholeheartedly agree with William Gates Sr., an outspoken advocate of maintaining the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans, who has categorized the estate tax as the fairest tax imaginable, levied only on those who have prospered immensely from being American. Indeed, repealing the tax to allow for massive concentrations of wealth to be passed on tax-free from generation to generation is difficult to reconcile with some of our most precious American values: justice, fairness, opportunity and shared sacrifice.

The Bible addressed the inequality caused by massive accumulations of wealth three thousand years ago. The Jubilee Year was a way to ensure that society was not characterized by an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor resulting from wealth accumulated endlessly over generations. Today, the estate tax serves a similar purpose and must be maintained. We look forward to working with the Senate to ensure that the estate tax is reformed but not repealed.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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