Taxpayer relief from the Death Tax (estate tax) suffered strike two in the August Congressional session when a compromise bill attached to the minimum-wage law fell four votes shy (56-42) of the necessary 60 votes to bring it to a vote on the Senate floor. The compromise wouldn't have repealed the tax, as an earlier measure would have, but would have supplied some relief by raising the exemption levels and lowering the tax rates.
The real issue is no longer really about the Death Tax, however, or its inability to garner a vote. The issue is that it's no longer the majority that rules in the U.S. Senate, but the super-majority. All one has to do to impede movement on a measure that has close majority support is threaten a filibuster and it takes 60 votes to get it to a vote.
We'll have to see how this plays out, but a super-majority might actually be a good thing for agriculture, as agriculture increasingly finds itself in the minority. The situation, however, illustrates a much deeper problem for agriculture, which is simply the erosion of its political power. Some rural-state senators wouldn't even give the Death Tax measure the courtesy of a simple up or down vote despite the strong and almost universal support from major constituency groups.
Meanwhile, in the House, which overwhelmingly voted for Death Tax relief only to see the measure die in the Senate, redistricting is sapping rural representation at an alarming rate. The Senate theoretically should have been the intervening factor, as smaller and less-populated states have equal power in that legislative body with the powerhouse population states like California, New York, Texas and Florida. But even some rural senators apparently decided it was more advantageous to vote their party than their constituency.
The beef industry has seen its political clout severely diminished on some issues the last several years, as internal battles sapped our ability to speak with one voice. But this largely transpired on issues where essentially only some anti-beef activist groups, well recognized for their fringe positions, were in the opposition.
We can regain our powerful voice if the industry can squelch its self-destructive tendencies and work together. But the bigger question is how the beef industry, agriculture and rural America can get its collective voice heard on issues where they face strong opposition.
Agriculture, as an industry, can't continue to see its political influence erode inside the Washington Beltway. We're at the mercy of long-term demographic and political trends that require new alliances and creative tactics to combat.
To be sure, agriculture has the advantage of the respect America still holds for it and its practitioners, but the failure of the Death Tax is a great example of how agriculture's political power is eroding.
Troy Marshall is editor of Seedstock Digest, and a weekly contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free weekly newsletter delivered by e-mail every Friday afternoon. To subscribe to BEEF magazine's BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly newsletter, which provides timely news, opinion and analysis of events and trends of particular importance to the cow-calf production segment, visit www.beef-mag.com.