KAI RYSSDAL: I suppose you could say it's back to business as usual in Washington today. The big primaries are over. So lawmakers can concentrate on the task at hand. Kinda. The estate tax took center stage in the Senate. You might remember the President's tax cuts back in 2001 phased it out by 2010. Then brought it back full force in 2011. Republican leaders brought up a proposal to get rid of the estate tax. Forever. But that won't be cheap. The Treasury would lose an estimated 600-billion dollars in the decade that begins in 2011. So why bring it up? Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports . . . it's got something to do with the first Tuesday in November.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Supporters of the estate tax say it's good because it discourages inherited wealth over generations. But Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent calls it demoralizing.
SEN. JIM TALENT: It says to the small business people and farmers and indeed to everybody who saves and invests that you can do everything you can to build up your business, .. and then the government comes in and takes more than half of it.
Polls show Americans about split on the merits of the estate tax. Even tho Minnesota Democratic Senator Mark Dayton says only the very rich pay it.
SEN. MARK DAYTON: Today we are debating eliminating taxes on only the wealthiest one-half of one percent of all Americans.
That makes even some Republicans squeamish about getting rid of the tax. But Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute says the issue is part of an ideological troika for the party's conservative base.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: It's not merely a coincidence that we've got a Senate focusing on three things this month. A constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning or desecration, and permanent repeal of the estate tax. The three go together in odd ways because they're designed to shore up different parts of the conservative base: Religious and economic.
Moderates are working on a compromise to limit the estate tax's reach and cost the Treasury less money. But Republican leaders will vote tomorrow on a resolution to cut off further debate on the issue.
In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.