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Estate Tax Deal Acceptable to Agriculture

DC Dialogue

Deal brokered between President Obama and Republicans allows for a $5 million estate tax exemption and a maximum rate of 35%.

Published on: December 8, 2010

Over the weekend President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans reached a deal on extending the Bush tax cuts which included a $5 million estate tax exemption and a maximum rate of 35%.

If the tax code was not addressed, on Jan. 1, 2011, the estate tax, commonly called the death tax, would revert back to its pre-2001 levels of 55% on farm estates worth $1 million.

 Ousted Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., helped broker the deal regarding the estate tax. Lincoln and Jon Kyl, R-Az., had introduced a bill earlier this year with the $5 million exemption and maximum rate of 35%.

 A statement from the American Farm Bureau Federation said for America’s farm and ranch families, passage of estate tax relief is the single most important tax issue left unresolved by Congress. "We urge Congress to take action now to turn the agreement into legislation that can pass in the closing days of the 111th Congress," AFBF President Bob Stallman said.

A statement from the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition applauded the framework. "The goal of the FBETC has always been full repeal of the estate tax, and we believe this is the best solution to protect all family-owned businesses from the estate tax.  A $5 million exemption and 35% rate will provide much needed estate tax relief until full repeal becomes possible," the coalition said in its statement.

Democrats were upset with the deal, and its passage does have some obstacles. Reports indicate there should be enough votes in the Senate to get the deal through. Many moderate senators are up for reelection in 2012 and will tend to vote more conservatively ahead of the elections.

The House, the home to more liberal Democrats, has strongly opposed the upper income brackets in the deal and challenged that Obama's estate-tax proposal is too generous to people with large inheritances.

Biofuels tax credits

Media reports also indicate that the issue of addressing expiring ethanol tax credits may also be rolled into tax legislation agreed upon by the White House and Republicans. Over the weekend Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced an amendment that would cut the U.S. ethanol subsidy from 45 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon and extend the tariff on imported ethanol at its current rate of 54 cents per gallon for one year. The bill also reinstate and retroactively pay the $1 biodiesel tax incentive which was allowed to expire at the end of 2009.

The amendment did not pass, but could resurface at this level in final negotiations after the White House tax deal was brokered.

The proposed level by Baucus is the same level contained in the House Ways and Means Committee bill unveiled earlier this year.

A statement from the Renewable Fuels Assn. called Baucus' approach a "good one" as it would provide some "market stability as good faith efforts to responsibly reform ethanol tax policy continue."

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) criticized the proposal, and took aim especially at the lack of parity between the blender's credit and the export tariff. Historically the export credit offset the blender's tax credit so that America does not subsidize foreign producers.

Joel Velasco, UNICA's chief representative in North America, said Congress is trying to change the "rules by making the tariff a true trade barrier rather than a subsidy offset." He added, "The ethanol import tariff shouldn't exist at all. But if it must, the tariff should be a direct offset of the tax credit that protects Americans from subsidizing foreign production, not a punitive trade barrier."

Listen to an interview with John Jenkinson for The Ag Network on the developments of the estate tax.