Override of Estate Tax Veto Unlikely

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — If they fail to override President Clinton's veto of a bill repealing estate taxes, House Republicans want to make sure the vote makes Democrats uncomfortable and underscores for voters the GOP commitment to tax cuts.

While the House was scheduled to hold the override vote Thursday, GOP leaders all but conceded it was unlikely they would get the necessary two-thirds vote.

``We're hopeful we can get very close,'' said Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking House Republican leader.

In a 279-136 vote in June, 65 Democrats and one independent joined all 213 Republicans voting as the House agreed to phase out inheritance taxes at a cost of $105 billion over 10 years.

While the margin was just over the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto, Democratic leaders say 11 of their members who missed the vote support Clinton's action and that at least 10 more would be persuaded to switch sides.

``I think we'll sustain the veto,'' Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told reporters, adding that the Clinton administration was working with House Democrats to shore up support.

Even if the House did vote to override the veto, a two-thirds Senate margin also would be required and the 59-39 Senate vote to pass the bill in July was eight short of that threshold.

Although the first $675,000 of an estate is exempt from tax and only about 2 percent of estates are affected each year, repealing the tax has grown in popularity on Capitol Hill. One reason is a forceful lobbying campaign led by the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Federation of Independent Business. The groups contend the tax is inherently unfair.

Dan Danner, a senior vice president at the small business group, said its 600,000 members ``will keep a particularly close eye ... on those who desert their earlier support of death tax relief.''

Next week, the House will decide whether to sustain the president's veto of the 10-year, $292 billion marriage penalty tax cut, for which 53 House Democrats voted.

Clinton has said he would sign less costly versions of both bills as long as the tax relief is directed more toward middle-income people. There is some sentiment in GOP ranks to demonstrate an election-year willingness to compromise, but other Republicans prefer a clear dividing line on tax issues for voters.

``We've made the point. We've made the effort,'' said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. ``Unfortunately, President Clinton continues to talk one way and do something else.''

Summers said the administration maintains that the GOP approach of passing individual tax cuts that rely on projected budget surpluses makes it impossible to determine the cuts' overall impact on the economy and on priorities such as education, Social Security, Medicare and paying down the federal debt.

``We need to have a much clearer idea about where we're going before we're able to make judgments on individual tax pieces,'' Summers said.

There have been nine attempts by Congress to override a Clinton veto since Republicans took power in 1995. Four have won House approval and only two — on budget line-item vetoes and securities litigation reform — were overridden by the House and Senate as required.


The bill is H.R. 8.

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