House Democrats' plan drops repeal of a tax provision for inheritances

  • House Democrats revealed a package of tax hikes on corporations and the rich without President Joseph Biden's proposed levy on inherited property at death.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee may have dropped the measure due to concerns about family owned farms, policy experts say.

House Democrats on Monday revealed a package of tax hikes on corporations and the rich without President Joseph Biden's proposed levy on inherited property at death, according to an outline from the Ways and Means Committee.

Currently, heirs may delay taxes on inherited gains until they sell the property. They also receive a tax provision, the so-called step-up in basis, adjusting the asset's purchase price to the value on the date of death, saving taxpayers $41 billion per year, according to an estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Biden has called for treating inheritances like a sale, requiring heirs to pay taxes on death, with an exemption for gains over $1 million for single filers and $2.5 million for married couples.

The measure along with capital gains tax increases may generate $213 billion over 10 years, according to estimates from the Tax Foundation.

However, the House Ways and Means Democrats dropped Biden's proposal from their tax plan, shifting to other levies to fund their $3.5 trillion spending plan.

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One of the plans is reverting the estate and gift tax exemption to $5 million, according to a summary of the proposals, exposing estates and gifts above that amount to a 40% federal estate tax. 

Former President Donald Trump increased the estate and gift tax exemptions to $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples through the Republicans' 2017 tax overhaul.

However, those provisions will sunset after 2025, slashing the thresholds down to about $6 million and $12 million, respectively.

"The lack of changes to step-up in basis in the Ways and Means texts suggests that there remain ongoing concerns about how that proposal would impact family-owned businesses and farms," Tax Foundation senior policy analyst Garrett Watson said.

Although Biden has promised protection for family owned farms, there has been pushback from industry groups, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.  

"In recorded history, we've never even seen a family that's lost their farm because of an estate tax," said Steven Rosenthal, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "It just does not happen."

"But that doesn't hurt the imaginations of all these politicians who want to use the family farm as a straw man," he said.

These proposals may change as the Ways and Means Committee Democrats continue to debate tax policy. While the House may pass the final bill in the coming weeks, the party will also need support from all members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

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