Ways and Means to vote on estate tax repeal

The House Ways and Means Committee plans to vote next week to roll back the estate tax, a spokesman for Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanRangel: Trump puts Ryan in tough spot Dems find voice with disruption Democrats plan 'day of action' to keep spotlight on guns MORE (R-Wis.) said Wednesday.

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Congressional Republicans have succeeded in limiting the estate's tax reach in recent years, but have been unable to reach their goal of scrapping the tax for good. 

Next week's vote on the repeal measure from Rep. Kevin BradyKevin BradyRepublican chairman: Our tax reform plan fits with Trump's vision House Republicans roll out new blueprint for tax reform GOP draws battle line with ObamaCare alternative MORE (R-Texas) will be the Ways and Means Committee's first in roughly a decade, according to Doug Andres, a committee spokesman. 

"The story is the same in all of our districts—family business owners and farmers work hard for their entire lives with the goal of passing on the fruits of their labor, but face the sometimes insurmountable hurdle of the death tax," Rep. Dave ReichertDavid ReichertLawmakers, small businesses praise employee stock ownership plans Bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduces tariff bill Business ups pressure for tariff relief MORE (R-Wash.) said at a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

But the GOP, and their business and farming allies, still faces long odds in getting the estate tax repealed before 2017. President Obama remains opposed to getting rid of the tax, and wants it to apply to more estates. Other congressional Democrats have complained that the current estate tax parameters are permanent, while tax breaks for helping lower-income families are temporary.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) noted at Wednesday's hearing that the federal government has relied on an estate tax since the days of the founding fathers. 

"Whether used by John Adams to defend our democracy against a foreign threat, or by Lincoln to unite it, an inheritance tax has been recognized as a legitimate way to fund government operations and prevent concentrations of wealth," Neal said.

The Joint Committee on Taxation noted this week that the estate tax affects a small percentage of U.S. families –just 4,700 tax returns had estate tax liabilities for 2013, out of about 2.6 million deaths in the U.S. that year. 

The tax committee said last year that estate tax repeal would cost almost $295 billion over a decade. In 2014, the committee said, the estate tax generated roughly $19.3 billion in revenue – or roughly 0.6 percent of federal revenues. Four decades ago, the estate tax accounted for roughly 2.6 percent of revenues, its highest point since World War II. 

The current top rate for the estate tax, 40 percent, was put into the place by the fiscal cliff measure signed into law more than two years ago. Individuals now have a $5.43 million exemption for the tax, with married couples getting $10.86 million.