Grassley explains why people don't invest: 'Booze or women or movies'
By KYLE SWENSON | The Washington Post | Published: December 4, 2017
As Republicans continue to sell the details of their tax bill, some are reaching for more colorful language to liven up complex policies that tend to put the average voter to sleep.
Case in point: over the weekend Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, hashed over the plan with his home state's Des Moines Register. Turning to the party's idea to do away with the estate tax, Grassley framed the current law as a hindrance to responsible saving.
"I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing," Grassley told the Register. "As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."
The estate tax, often described by Republicans as the "death tax," is levied only on the very rich, individuals who pass on assets of more than $5.5 million, $11 million for married couples.
Grassley, a member of Senate Finance Committee responsible for writing the tax proposal, immediately was hit with criticism online over the comments.
The suggestion - that anyone not socking away their savings in the bank or investments must be profligately throwing their money away - played directly into the critique that Republicans are disconnected from the majority of working Americans.
"Darn straight, Sen. Grassley," former Hillary Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson wrote on Twitter. "[I]f we gave that money in middle class tax cuts, they'd just waste it on hookers and blow. right?"
The current tax on estates is 40 percent on an individual's wealth when they die, applying to assets valued above $5.5 million for an individual, $11 million for a couple. Republicans have long criticized the provision, referring to it as a "death tax."
Under the Senate tax planned passed early Saturday morning along partisan lines, the exemptions are both raised to $11 million per individual and $22 million per couple. The House version of the bill does the same but also axes the tax completely in 2024.
In Grassley's home state of Iowa, the estate tax has been particularly fraught with controversy. Republicans have often argued the 40 percent government tax creates a cost prohibitive situation for farmers hoping to pass their farms on to heirs.
"Death should not be a taxable event and families should not have to fear the Internal Revenue Service and more taxes making it more difficult and costly to pass on the farm or family business to the next generation," Rep. David Young, a Des Moines-area congressman, wrote on Friday in a newsletter to constituents.
But, according to the Des Moines Register, the actual numbers do not support that narrative. Citing 2016 data from the Internal Revenue Service, the paper determined 5,219 tax returns were impacted by the current estate tax. Only 682, or 13 percent, of the tax filers owned farm assets.
The paper also referenced a 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service noting only 65 farm estates in the U.S. annually are touched by the estate tax.
Grassley and other congressional Republicans have long maintained that even if farmers are not impacted by the tax directly, the planning involved is an additional strain.
"[M]any are forced into spending large sums of their hard-earned dollars on lawyers and accountants to avoid its impact instead of reinvesting in their business," he told the Register. "This means that while many don't end up paying the tax, it still has a negative effect on the economy."