Chuck Grassley has been in the U.S. Senate for 37 years. At the end of his current term, he will be 89 years old. So perhaps he’s beyond worrying about his popularity among Iowa voters, and is just saying things other Republicans think but generally don’t say out loud. During an interview with the Des Moines Register, Grassley was confronted with evidence that the usual “family farms” defense of an estate tax repeal is, well, not true.
In a Nov. 29 interview, Grassley was adamant about the need for change, even if farmers and small business owners represent a tiny minority of estate tax payers. The reason, he said, is as much philosophical as practical …
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Since the current exemption on income subject to the estate tax is $5.49 million (and twice that for couples), that’s a whole lot of people who are spending their money on trivialities — like each other (the charitable interpretation of Grassley’s reference to spending on “women”).
What Grassley is almost certainly reflecting is the age-old conservative belief that the investor class is responsible for all good things, with everyone and everything else — including labor and consumption — representing human fodder for the economic machine. Since those wasteful non-wealthy people outnumber the thrifty, productive investors quite a bit, it is impolitic to admit this prejudice. But Chuck Grassley just did.
As Jared Bernstein notes, this attitude is fully reflected in the tax bill the Senate passed early Saturday morning:
The tax plan is written in such a way as to favor asset-based incomes, passive business investments and inherited wealth, and to penalize, once it’s fully phased in, those foolish enough to depend on their paychecks. If your income derives from your stock portfolio or your rich parent, this plan loves you. Otherwise, tough luck.
But by the time the whole deal goes down, Chuck Grassley will probably be well into his own retirement planning. So he doesn’t need to keep up any pretense that tax cuts are really aimed at the middle class.