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Lincoln talks bull
There was much the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee might have told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, for the cattlemen's own good and the nation's. The big ranchers are forever seeking cutbacks on environmental laws that might affect their profit margins; lower fees for overgrazing the public range, and, most of all, weaker meat inspection laws, though the existing laws are minimal. Addressing the association last week, Sen. Blanche Lincoln could have asked the cattlemen to be a little less selfish, to think of others' safety — she owes a duty to consumers as well as producers, after all — and to recognize that public land belongs to everyone. Instead, she boasted of voting against climate-change legislation — “I'm as dumb as you are,” seemed to be the message here — and, worst of all, she renewed her campaign against the estate tax, a progressive tax paid by only a handful of the very richest Americans. Lincoln wants to reduce the small tax still further. It hits family farms and small businesses like a steamroller, she said. She worked in a freight train, too.
There's no record of small businesses or farms being crushed by the estate tax. Most estates are exempt from the tax; the ones that must pay do so at an easily affordable rate. The estate tax is no more than an annoyance to the Tysons and the Stephenses and their economic classmates.
Yet the estate tax raises a fair amount of revenue, used for the benefit of rich and poor — from health care, to public education to national defense. Even big ranchers decrying big government benefit from environmental protection, though they may not realize it. And they benefit more than most Americans from the government's protection of private property. They have more property to protect.
Elimination or virtual elimination of the estate tax would be fiscally irresponsible. The loss of estate-tax collections would add greatly to future deficits, unless the money were replaced from some other source — perhaps by higher taxes on those who can least afford to pay, but after eight years of George Bush, there's precious little blood left in that turnip.
Listening to Lincoln on the estate tax is like listening to Sarah Palin talk about death panels. They both know better — well, Lincoln certainly, Palin probably — but political aspirations compel them to not back up an inch, even if the average hard-working American is hurt by their actions. And the average hard-working American is.