CBS' Attkisson adopted GOP term “death tax” while reporting on the estate tax

On the November 9 edition of the CBS Evening News, CBS Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson adopted the Republican-preferred name for the estate tax, referring to it as “the death tax.” While reporting on Democrats who are likely to lead committees in the House of Representatives, Attkisson noted that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) “is in” as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which could mean “higher taxes on upper-income Americans and perhaps reinstituting the death tax.” As Media Matters for America has noted, many conservatives refer to the estate tax as the “death tax,” a name that, as Republican pollster Frank Luntz found, polls better for conservatives.

Further, the estate tax is set to be repealed entirely for only one year, 2010. The tax would automatically take effect again in 2011, unless Congress extends the repeal. So, contrary to Attkisson's assertion, if the estate tax takes effect again in 2011, it would not be because Democrats “reinstitut[ed]” the tax; it would be because the repeal extends only through 2010.

As part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, Republicans voted to cut the estate tax and repeal it for the year 2010. When the act was passed, the estate tax applied to estates worth more than $1 million. The law raised the estate-tax exemption from estates worth $1 million to $3.5 million and gradually lowered the “maximum [tax] rate” from 55 percent to 45 percent by 2007. The law repealed the estate tax altogether for the year 2010. Then, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, "[f]ollowing the 2010 sunset, the estate tax reverts to prior law, with an exemption of $1 million and a top rate of 55 percent." But, contrary to Attkisson's suggestion, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Democrats oppose a reversion to the estate tax structure before the 2001 act. The Chronicle quoted Clint Stretch, managing principal of tax policy with Deloitte Tax, as asserting: “Mr. Rangel had a proposal to have a $3 million exemption per person. He's interested in a realistic estate tax, not the one we had back in 2000.” In an April 12, 2005, report on the “Consequences of Republican Tax Policy,” Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee said: “For the overwhelming percentage of estates (in excess of 99 percent), a simple extension of the law in effect during 2009 [when the exemption would be $3.5 million] would be the optimal result.”

From the November 9 edition of CBS' Evening News with Katie Couric:

KATIE COURIC (anchor): Meanwhile, the shift in power means new leaders for every congressional committee, and some have waited a long time for their moment. Here's Sharyl Attkisson.

[begin video clip]

ATTKISSON: Today, the man presumed to be the new Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, staked his claim on Capitol Hill.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): The election is over. It's time for a change.

ATTKISSON: After 12 years as backseat drivers, Democrats move into the driver's seat. Issues that were mere notions last week are now front and center: raising the minimum wage, passing the 9-11 Commission recommendations and letting the government negotiate cheaper group drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. From there, the agenda will be largely set by the powerful congressional committees, with some of the longest-serving liberals in charge.

On the House tax committee, known as Ways and Means, Republican Bill Thomas [CA] is out as chairman, Democrat Charles Rangel is in. When asked about tax increases, Rangel has said, quote, “Everything has to be on the table.” That might mean higher taxes on upper-income Americans and perhaps reinstituting the death tax.

Republican Tom Davis [VA] on Government Reform will be replaced by liberal Democrat Henry Waxman [CA], who is known for tough oversight of corporations and government. Duncan Hunter [R-CA] moves aside as head of Armed Services. Democrat Ike Skelton [MO] replaces him. He calls a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq a priority.

And in the Senate, Arlen Specter [R-PA] gets bumped by Patrick Leahy [D-VT] as chairman of Judiciary. That means if there's an opening on the Supreme Court, it'll be tougher for President Bush to push through a conservative Supreme Court nominee, and it's less likely Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

[end video clip]

ATTKISSON: But even with the majority, Democrats can't count on steamrolling through everything they want. As a minority, Republicans can always filibuster in the Senate, and the president has his veto pen.

A reader tip from D.H. contributed to this report. Thanks, and keep them coming.