Jim Martin, founder and chairman of the 60 Plus Senior Association, vows that his 7.1 million-member group’s efforts to repeal the estate tax will play a huge role in the 2014 elections.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, the man who put the phrase “death tax” on the political map to describe the estate tax predicted a big Republican capture of the Senate because of what he called a “tsunami of senior power reaching gale force this November.”
Virtually every Republican competing for a Senate seat this year supports repealing the estate tax. In 2006, the repeal effort came within three votes of overcoming a Senate filibuster.
Martin also pointed out that there is a growing sentiment among Democrats in and out of Congress to repeal the tax.
“The repeal bill in 2006 passed the House by a vote of 272 to 162,” Martin said, adding that “42 Democrats were on the repeal side and [Georgia Democratic Rep.] Sanford Bishop became the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote to kill the death tax. I suspect his vote had a lot to do with the number of family farms in Georgia that were hit hard by the tax that forced family members to scramble and borrow to pay it.”
Currently, the “death tax” is a 40 percent levy applied to estates over $5.34 million and is indexed for inflation.
Martin cited Frank Blethen, publisher and chief executive officer of the venerable Seattle Times, as one prominent Democrat in the “kill-the-death-tax” camp. Hailed by the left-wing Daily Kos as “the new Citizen Kane,” fourth-generation newsman Blethen runs a newspaper that has been in his family since his great-grandfather Alden bought it in 1896.
“Frank is a liberal Democrat who backed Bill Bradley for president [in the 2000 Democratic primaries] over Al Gore because Gore wasn’t liberal enough,” Martin said with a chuckle.
“I’m a conservative Republican, so we don’t get into talking politics. But the only thing we have in common is something critical: Frank is a vigorous supporter of death tax repeal,” Martin said. “I think practical experience has something to do with it. He’s just seen too many family-owned newspapers like his go under because the families couldn’t pay the tax on the estate of a deceased owner.”
Other major repeal players hailed by Martin include Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform — “who never met a tax he doesn’t want to drown in his bathtub,” Martin mused — and Alabama tax attorney Harold Apolinsky, who Martin affectionately calls “the Godfather of repeal.”
“Harold and I have testified before Congress on the harmful effects of this anti-family, anti-small business tax,” Martin said.
The next repeal measure — which is sponsored by South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, both Republicans — will have more Democratic support than ever, Martin predicted. But he also noted that nearly all the Democrats running for Senate seats this year oppose repeal.
“That will give Republicans — nearly all of whom are on the repeal side — control of the Senate,” said Martin, who in August of 2009 became one of the first conservatives to forecast the wave in 2010 that gave the GOP its largest majority in the House since 1938.
Martin, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spelled out the “battlefields” where he and 60 Plus national spokesman and legendary singer Pat Boone plan to energize their members into action.
Three states where Democratic senators are retiring are what Martin called “lead-pipe cinches” for pickup by Republicans candidates. He also said Republican challengers are better than even money to defeat Democratic senators and repeal opponents in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
“Mark my words: [Louisiana Sen.] Mary Landrieu is finished,” Martin vowed. “She has won three terms by very tight margins. This year, we’re going all-out to show Louisiana’s senior citizens how she has consistently opposed death tax repeal — and that will make the difference for her opponent.”
The 60 Plus chief went even further than many Republican-leaning pundits and forecast a Republican pickup of the seat of retiring Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and defeats for Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Al Franken of Minnesota.
“The senior vote went heavily Republican in 2010 and went for Mitt Romney by 20 percentage points nationwide in 2012,” said Martin. “If other voters who favored Romney turned out for him in the numbers seniors did, we’d be discussing ‘President Romney’ and how he was eager to sign death tax repeal.”
Since he picked up what he calls “my megaphone” and started building 60 Plus nearly two decades ago, Martin has been credited with popularizing the phrase “death tax” to describe the estate tax. In his book “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes,” Bill Gates Sr., father of Microsoft’s co-founder, cites Martin for reviving the phrase.
“Truth be told, President Reagan coined the term many years ago,” Martin told Newsmax. “But I take pride in having hammered it home. A tax ought to have a socially redeeming value. The estate tax has none. Instead it tears away at family businesses and stymies wealth creation and jobs. If Bill Gates Sr., George Soros, and Warren Buffet want to keep the death tax, fine. Make it voluntary and let them pay. But don’t preach to others about how they should be happy to pay. The estate tax needs to die.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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By John Gizzi