In an astonishing defense of dropping "death taxes" for individual estates worth more than $5.5 million, GOP Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley implied that people not currently affected by that tax are "spending every darn penny ... on booze or women."
"I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing - as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies," Grassley told the Des Moines Register in an interview published Saturday. Grassley, who serves on the Finance Committee, made the remark when asked about the Senate tax reform measure which would double the exemption for estates to $11 million for an individual and $22 million for a couple. Heirs would inherit the estates tax-free.
Grassley's comment triggered a wave of criticism on social media. Many complained that the working class is, in fact, spending "every darn penny" on raising their kids, caring for elderly parents, health care and putting food on the table. One Twitter user complained that the GOP was turning America into a version of "The Hunger Games."
The Grassley interview was part of the Des Moines Register's examination of how the tax reform measure radically reducing estate taxes will affect Iowans. Grassley has long argued that estate taxes, which currently must be paid on individual estates worth more than $5.5 million ($11 million for a married couple), hurt farms and small businesses in the state. Now, the Iowa senator apparently sees the tax change as a way to reward those who have accumulated millions of dollars by "investing."
The newspaper found that the estate tax break will affect only "dozens" among 1.4 million Iowa taxpayers, according to IRS data, because almost all estates fall under the current exemption cap. The newspaper noted that the number of Iowans owing estate taxes was just 32 of 1.4 million taxpayers in 2012 - or .002 percent of the total. Sixty-one people - .004 percent of all Iowa taxpayers - filed estate taxes in 2015. Only a fraction of those were farmers or small business owners, the newspaper reported.
Currently, only .2 percent of Americans pay estate tax and will benefit from the changes. The House measure would eliminate the tax on all estates of any size by 2024. The Senate and House measures will have to be reconciled.
Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) both applauded the changes in the estate tax and emphasized how the changes would help farms and small businesses. Young insisted in a newsletter Friday that it is a "myth" that "repealing the estate tax is a massive giveaway to the wealthiest Americans."
Grassley said earlier this year that the federal estate tax "may force family members to liquidate to pay the death tax."