A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on this page about the campaign by the right wing and its corporate allies to weaken the estate tax in America — the only tax on wealth in America, and therefore the only check on extremely rich individuals passing on their wealth to their children and grandchildren without making an appropriate contribution to the society that helped them achieve their wealth.

On December 15, 2009, the Public Policy and Education Fund and its state (New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness; Fiscal Policy Institute; Citizen Action of New York) and national (USAction, United for a Fair Economy) allies joined together to hold a press conference to make the case as to why we need a strong estate tax. The speakers – Bill Gates Sr. (the father of the Microsoft founder); Vanguard mutual fund founder John Bogle; Richard Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller and Anna Burger of SEIU made powerful statements as to the case against weakening the estate tax in this country, from the perspective both of the wealthiest Americans and those on the edge.

Bill Gates, Sr. said: “No one accumulates a fortune without the help of our society’s investments. How much wealth would exist without America’s unique property rights protections, public infrastructure, and academic institutions? We should celebrate the estate tax as an “economic opportunity recycling” program, where previous generations made investments for us and now it’s our turn to pass on the gift. Strengthening the estate tax is important to our democracy.”

John C. Bogle said, “To me, passing a stronger estate tax is a matter of ethics, of responsibility, of pride in citizenship, and it’s the right fiscal choice for our country.” He adds, “I don’t ever forget, as do some of my colleagues, that I benefited from a lot of business incentives and tax laws as I was building Vanguard Group to what it is today, and I owe some of that back.”

Anna Burger of the labor union SEIU, which represents many low-wage workers added, “Consider a wealthy family with two children. Under the current law, each child could inherit $3.5 million, tax free. That means each child would receive more, tax free, than the average worker would earn in two lifetimes. And the worker would be paying taxes on their earnings. Each of these children would receive more, tax-free, than 240 minimum wage workers would receive in a year.”

As I write this (the week before Christmas, 2009), it looks like the U.S. Senate will be unable to agree on an extension of the estate tax before the end of the year, which means that the estate tax will at least temporarily go out of existence. We will continue to do public education to make the case for the need for Congress to at least extend the current estate tax at its present levels (the first $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples is exempted from tax), so that the wealthiest Americans don’t get off scot-free from paying a share of our nation’s most urgent needs, including health care and education.