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Bush Seeks Eradication of Estate Tax
By Sandra Sobieraj, Associated Press Writer  6/7/2002

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - President Bush  marked the anniversary of his tax-cut law on Friday and asked for help with the politically potent next phase of his tax agenda: making sure the estate tax "is forever buried."

Bush cited improved national employment figures as proof the economy is strengthening since he signed the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax package into law exactly one year ago. But more needs to be done, he said, especially for heartland farmers and ranchers.

"In order to make sure this economy is strong, we've got to make sure that the agricultural sector of our economy is strong," Bush said at the World Pork Expo.

"For the good of American agriculture, let's make sure that death tax is forever buried and forever done away with."

Fresh from unveiling plans for a massive restructuring of the federal counterterrorism bureaucracy, Bush breathed in smells of popcorn and pork sausage at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

"It feels like I'm kind of getting closer to home, to be with people who make their living on the land," said the native Texan, a recreational rancher who, before politics, made his living in the businesses of oil and professional baseball.

After his speech, he put his arm around the Iowa Pork Queen, 19-year-old Dawn Kruger, and waved to the crowd. With his sleeves rolled up, he hit the picnic buffet. "OK," he said, "let's get eatin.'"

Against stiff opposition from Democrats who control the Senate, Bush wants a permanent repeal of the estate tax, which he and other Republicans deride as the "death tax." The House voted 256-171 Thursday for permanent repeal, a popular stand among farmers in the electorally important Midwest and among the very wealthy who contribute to political campaigns.

Bush lost Iowa to Al Gore in 2000 by only a few thousand votes. In 2004, the state will hold the nation's first presidential nominating contest and, this year, could help the Republicans overturn the Democrats' one-vote majority in the Senate, with Rep. Greg Ganske   trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin .

The tax-cut package Bush signed into law last year whittles back the estate tax until finally repealing it altogether — but for just one year — in 2010.

"Because of a quirk in the law, that repeal isn't permanent. It's hard for me to explain why they repealed it but didn't repeal it," Bush told visitors to the international livestock event.

In fact, White House and Republican negotiators bargained away a permanent estate-tax repeal during last year's debate in order to keep the tax package's price tag down and to avoid needing a 60-vote majority for passage in the Senate.

Despite Internal Revenue Service  data showing fewer than 2 percent of estates actually pay the estate tax, farm lobbyists argue it threatens to wipe out family farming. Asset-rich but cash-poor farm families socked with the tax when a relative dies sometimes are forced to sell the family business to pay what they owe the government, lobbyists say.

Democrats complained that Bush's trip, which broke no new policy ground, was nothing more than a free campaign swing for Ganske who, along with three other Republicans in the Iowa congressional delegation, accompanied Bush from Washington aboard Air Force One.

"I don't know if they wanted a free ride or not, but they came," Bush cracked.

Outside the 4-H exhibition hall where he spoke, a knot of demonstrators greeted Bush's motorcade with signs that read "Where's Tom?" in protest of Harkin's exclusion from the official party accompanying Bush.

Harkin, attending on his own, said the White House told his staff he was purposefully not invited along on the official, taxpayer-funded trip — Bush's seventh to Iowa since becoming president.

"President Bush has always said he wants to be a unifier, so I'm somewhat surprised," Harkin told reporters.

Nearby, a series of pig races played off the day's political and tax-cutting themes.

Brother Elroy, a clown-imitating pig trainer, used a tax analogy to explain why the winning trophy — a cookie — was missing a bite: "I'm like the government," he shouted to about 100 spectators. "The pigs do all the work. I take 50 percent."

In the first 10-second race, a pig named George W. Bushhog narrowly edged out Al Boar in their turn around the sawdust-covered oval track. The presidential namesake still finished behind the race winner, Jesse "the Swine" Ventura, however.


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