Estate Tax Moves to the ?Top Ten? in the Senate

With approval of the FY 2003 spending bills finally accomplished, Senate Republican leaders unveiled their legislative agenda for the 108th Congress on February 15, 2003. Permanent repeal of the estate tax made their list of top-ten legislative items. In January 2003, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced a bill to accelerate full repeal (currently scheduled for one year in 2010 by the 2001 Bush tax cut) to 2005 and permanently eliminate the estate tax thereafter. Several other bills have since been introduced to make repeal permanent after 2010.

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President Signs FY 2003 Appropriations Omnibus Bill

On February 20, nearly five months after the October 1 start of federal fiscal year 2003, the President signed into law an omnibus bill providing funding for the departments and programs covered by the 11 appropriations bills that were not completed by the October 1 deadline last fall.

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Update: FY 2003 Appropriations Drawing to a Close?

As reported in today’s Washington Post, House and Senate conferees are nearing completion on negotiations over H.R. 2, the omnibus bill for the remaining 11 FY 2003 appropriations bills that were not enacted by last October 1.

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Dynamic Dysfunctions

At the start of this Congress, the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee made the implementation of the controversial practice of “dynamic scoring” for budget decisions one of its first orders of business.

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State-by-State Analyses Show State Budget Deficits? Impact

In addition to the National Priorities Project’s handy “State of the States” reports announced in the last Watcher, there is also a new set of fact sheets from AFSCME documenting the draconian cuts states have been forced to make to contend with their 3-year cumulative budget gap of $189 billion. A one-page fact sheet looks comprehensively at the cuts used by many states to meet their own constitutions’ mandates of a balanced budget. Some of the cuts recently used by states include releasing prisoners before completion of their sentences, cuts to higher education, increases in tuition at state universities, reducing funds for community services and child support enforcement, tightening eligibility requirements for the working poor and disabled for state Medicaid health plans, raiding state rainy day funds, and layoffs. Other state-by-state analyses will be available soon, which OMB Watch will note.

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Treasury Department Warns U.S. Will Reach Debt Limit Soon

Bush Sets Record on Deficit: According to a chart released by Reuters last week, this year's $304 billion deficit that arose under the Bush Administration's watch is the largest in the last 30 years. Though many economists agree that temporary deficits at a time of a slowed economy are beneficial, most are concerned that the permanent commitment of the country's vital resources to providing permanent and costly tax cuts to the very wealthy will only create more trouble for the economy in the long-run. The Treasury Department issued a warning last week that the federal government would soon reach its current borrowing limit of $6.4 trillion, if Congressional action were not taken to raise it. As reported in the June 24 edition of the Watcher, this announcement regularly sets up a struggle between the Administration and Members of Congress, who do not want to appear to be spending beyond the government’s debt limit. As this Washington Post article points out, this most recent announcement is particularly troublesome, given that the President is also requesting a $674 billion tax cut.

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Responses to President's FY 2004 Budget Proposal

The President issued his FY 2004 budget proposal February 3, which was received with accolades by some and with great criticism by others worried that several key education, housing and environmental programs would suffer under his proposed funding levels. Included in this article are links to OMB Watch analyses, as well as the responses of other organizations and Members of Congress.

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Program Assessment And Budget Cuts Ahead

This Administration has not made reducing the size and effectiveness of government a stated goal; however, the strides that are being made to devolve responsibilities to the states and to privatize government functions, deregulate and limit government oversight, and defund government by reducing federal (and often state) revenue through huge tax cuts, make the words unnecessary. One new and potentially effective tool in this effort to delimit the role of the federal government is the “Program Assessment Rating Tool,” or “PART.”

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Bush Budget Calls for Permanent Estate Tax Repeal -- At Great Cost

On February 3, Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 69-29 to repeal its state estate tax, bucking a trend among state legislatures to work to preserve the tax’s revenue in a time of record setting state deficits. Governor Mark Warner (D) had petitioned hard to preserve this piece of revenue for Virginia, which is facing an estimated 1.1 billion budget gap for FY 2004, but the vote is being touted by the Republican-controlled legislative body as a “veto-proof” majority. Though repeal advocates in Virginia argued that repeal would protect the state’s small farms and family businesses, data from the USDA and the Federal Reserve show that both the average large farm and family business in Virginia already fall well below the current $1 million exemption under federal law.

The President (faced with a 6 percent unemployment rate, increased homeland security needs and costs, and a projected $300 billion deficit for the coming year) has decided that repeal of the estate tax must be made permanent – at all costs. And the costs are great: nearly $56 billion in the first full year of repeal. But you wouldn’t know it from the President’s budget charts.

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President?s Budget Cuts Vital Programs and Makes Room for Costly Tax Breaks

In looking at this President’s budget, it appears that he is trying to be all things to all people. If we are to believe the President, there can be large increases for defense, smaller increases for homeland security spending, and the creation of new, large tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest, including the acceleration and making permanent of previously enacted large income tax breaks – as well as a rational restraining of most other federal spending to contain the large deficits predicted for FY 2004 and beyond. However, the reality is that the large tax cuts already passed, coupled with the large tax cuts now proposed and the spending increases in defense and homeland security, will put added pressure to reduce long-term spending on domestic discretionary and entitlement programs – or cause the deficit to balloon.

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