Dead People vs. Living Youth

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Always ready to surprise with appalling public policy, this 107th Congress has been no disappointment. Consider the attention given to two issues: the estate tax on those worth over $6 million and the proposed Younger Americans Act, which would provide up to $1 billion annually for positive youth development programs, especially for the more than 11 million youth growing up in poverty.

Last year, Congress passed President Bush’s tax program, which phased out estate taxes for all but the richest 2 percent of Americans by 2010. But when it comes to being solicitous to the wants and wishes of the wealthy, this Congress can’t seem to do enough. Fretting about the after-death well-being of just three-tenths of 1 percent of all estates, most Republicans in Congress (joined by many Democrats) voted to permanently repeal the federal estate tax. The price tag for the first pre-2010 cut is about $100 billion. But the cost for the second cut is staggering: an estimated $740 billion in lost revenues over its first decade.

In the House, 256 members voted for this unearned gift to the grandchildren of the rich. In the Senate, 54 members backed the measure that is opposed by even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. That was just six votes short of the 60 needed to send this super-welfare for the super-rich bill to President Bush for his certain approval.

While lavishing solicitous concern on the nation’s billionaires, Congress could not find a spare few hours for someone – anyone – in either chamber to hold a hearing on the Younger Americans Act. The legislation has 79 co-sponsors in the House and nine in the Senate. Years of entreaties from thousands of direct service providers and such prominent national groups as Camp Fire USA and the Child Welfare League of America, and there is still no hearing.

When Democrats regained control of the Senate last year, they placed Sens. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) in positions to act. Pleading the press of other business, these two have done zilch.

Perhaps to get everyone’s attention, the bill should be renamed the Younger Billionaires Act.