The Congressional Budget Office recently found that, contrary to what we've always believed, only a couple of dozen or so farmers would benefit from repeal of the estate tax -- dubbed the "death tax" because of its painful effects on the dead.
But it turns out the CBO study is fatally flawed, largely because its definition of "farmer" is so restrictive. In fact, the CBO does not even take into account numerous Beltway Farmers, those hardworking people who toil in the hot sun right here.
For example, there's President Bush. Bush, who works months clearing brush on his farm, has a net worth of between $3 million and $13 million based on his disclosure forms. Unless the Senate acts this week, Bush's heirs are looking at a tax of between $800,000 and about $6 million, according to some back-of-the-envelope calculations provided by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).
And that's nothing. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would get positively hammered on his estate, estimated at between $59 million and $185 million. His heirs could pay as much as $101 million in taxes.
Repeal of this evil tax could save the Bush, Vice President Cheney and 11 Cabinet members (some don't have enough to owe tax) as much as $344 million, by Waxman's calculations.
And they're hardly the only farmers who would benefit. The top 20 wealthiest members of the House and Senate who support repeal of the tax would be spared the pain of paying more than $200 million when they die. That's a lot of pain.
The top 20, taken from Roll Call's annual survey of the 50th wealthiest lawmakers, are headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who, with a net worth of $108 million, would save $58.9 million. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) would save nearly $5 million.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who's worth $200 million, is not included in Waxman's list because he's for keeping the estate tax.
After all, as Bush once said of how he would be viewed by history: "We don't know. We'll all be dead."
Democrats Steer Clear of Fast Track
During the presidential campaign, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) told the Louisville Courier-Journal that "the public diplomacy of this administration is almost counterproductive, if not pathetic. They have not done the work necessary to . . . endear us to people and bring people to us and build support."
So it went much-noticed last week that Kerry did not attend the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of former White House counselor Karen R. Hughes to be the next public diplomacy czarina, an office that has always been held by a woman.
Kerry, of course, was in Paris, brushing up on his French as a guest of Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, whom Kerry is encouraging to run for office from Texas. And the other committee Democrats were nowhere to be found.
The general excuse was that, since there are hardly ever any votes on Fridays, they had made other plans back in their home states.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), who might have been expected to cover since he's nearby, was in Boston speaking at the annual meeting of AHEPA, the country's largest association of Greek Americans.
Hughes, named to this critical job in February, was fast-tracked for confirmation this week. The committee voted unanimously yesterday to send her name to the Senate, which is expected to approve her by Friday. Then she'll be off on the traditional "listening tour" of the Middle East.
In Interior We Don't Trust
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, most unhappy with the Interior Department in the endless litigation over proper accounting of Indian trust funds that Interior oversees, has effectively ordered the entire department -- not just the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- to say on all correspondence -- newsletters, e-mails, documents -- that any information it puts out about the trust funds may be unreliable.
The department has appealed Lamberth's order, which is to take effect next Tuesday, to the U.S. Court of Appeals here. Interior Department officials say they're worried that when kids in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools get their report cards, parents will get a notice that those grades may be "unreliable."
Plum Tree Picked Clean
Bush "Rangers" and "Pioneers" job alert! Fine ambassadorships are going quickly. As expected, Bush I White House counsel C. Boyden Gray was named ambassador to the European Union. (Gray, a recent graduate of the State Department's ambassadorial school and a leader in supporting the administration in the fight over judicial confirmations, will forgo publicly helping out on John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the high court.)
There's barely a worthwhile ambassadorship left. The great plums -- Rome, London, Paris and Madrid -- are spoken for. And the Vatican posting is going to Bush fundraising Ranger and Oklahoma businessman, Francis Rooney III, CEO of Rooney Holdings Inc., an investment and holding company based in Tulsa and Naples, Fla.
Also on the ambassadorial front, the administration and the Senate are moving quickly to confirm two career diplomats for critical posts. Hearings are scheduled for today for just-nominated Richard H. Jones, the pick as ambassador to Israel, and for Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., who was named ambassador to Egypt.