Reaching into the grave

It's a primary tenet of Marxism, right up there with the abolition of private property.

Not surprisingly, it's also very popular with the American left and many Democrats.

It's the death tax -- and it's soon to be back on the congressional agenda.

When Congress passed the Bush tax cuts of 2001, there weren't enough votes to abolish the estate tax altogether, so a muddled compromise resulted. The tax, which has been dwindling incrementally over the past seven years, is set to expire for one year in 2010 -- and then return with a vengeance in 2011 unless lawmakers act.

Understandably, the uncertainty has created concern among various individuals and business interests trying to plan for the future.

As things stand now, the rate will fluctuate drastically over the next three years. For this year, couples with estates valued at more than $7 million face a death tax rate of 45 percent. That will dwindle to nothing in 2010, but leap to 55 percent on estates worth more than just $1 million in 2011.

Think Dr. Kevorkian could do a crack business come December 2010?

There are plenty of proposals floating around in Washington to fix this mess -- most of them bad. The most sensible is a total repeal of the federal death tax, an immoral levy based on the dubious premise of redistributionists and social engineers that the state's role is to promote egalitarianism and "economic justice" -- by force, if necessary. On what moral grounds does the government have a right to confiscate an individual's property upon his demise?

Unfortunately, a repeal will not happen with Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats running the House and Senate. That has led some business groups -- including the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- to abandon principle for pragmatism and drop their long-standing calls for an end to the death tax in favor of a compromise measure that would stabilize the levy at 35 percent on estates larger than $10 million.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and all that.

"It's the best possible relief we can provide for small business," Bill Rys, tax counsel for the NFIB, told Bloomberg News this week. "We think that's a good solution right now."

The plan is modeled after a proposal put forth by Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, and Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, that barely passed the Senate earlier this year during a budget debate. It would face a much more difficult time in a House run by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, D-Havana.

At any rate, fairness demands Congress act to fix the mess it created. Killing the Marxist-inspired death tax for good must continue to be the ultimate goal of those who find repugnant the notion that the government should have first crack at the wealth created and earned by hard-working Americans. But short of that, the Kyl-Lincoln proposal would be a step forward.