Paris Hilton’s present

Republicans in the U.S. Congress (plus a few Democrats) recently agreed to give Paris Hilton a birthday present. The heiress turned 24 this past February, so legislators were a bit tardy with their gift. Still, considering how slowly the mill of these particular gods tends to grind on other matters, Hilton’s gift was ground out rather quickly. This is a deliberative body that deliberates in greater haste when it is carving out special favors for big campaign donors. Few donors can afford to donate more than those who already have been favored by the generous tax cuts that have thrown the country so deeply and dangerously into debt.

Hilton’s present? The repeal of the estate tax, a tax imposed on only the richest of the rich. This new windfall is analogous to overfeeding a pig that is already engorged, fat and swollen in the sty—too heavy to rise but still able to turn its head and continue eating.

But, hey, fat pigs make for fat farmers, and the congressional Republicans who have been feeding these hogs have gotten very fat indeed. Political contributions are at an all-time high, a quid pro quo if ever there was one.

Hilton may be rail-thin now, but when she comes into her inheritance—all that Hilton hotel money—she won’t have to pay tax on her windfall, if the congressional Republicans have their way. The estate tax is currently assessed against fewer than 50,000 taxpayers each year, less than 2 percent of all those who leave an estate. Repealing it is legislation specifically designed to benefit only the sugar on the upper crust.

It’s odd to find so many politicians spending so much energy on so few Americans when so many other Americans are in significantly greater need. The priorities of this Republican-dominated Congress, led by the corrupt and arrogant Tom DeLay, are almost surreal, but then that’s how things tend to work. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once observed, “Things are more the way they are now than they’ve ever been before.”

This tax relief for the obscenely rich is going to cost nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. Many of the dollars going into Paris Hilton’s pocket will be coming out of state-government coffers. If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by George W. Bush, the revenue loss to California would average upward of $600 million a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (a fiscally conservative D.C. think tank).

But, as more and more Americans slip into poverty, as more and more of our citizens lose their grip on medical benefits, and as gasoline prices take bigger bites out of the pocketbooks of those who must commute to work, Congress decides that the nation’s most pressing concern is a birthday present for Hilton.

Fortunately for all of us, the real fight on this tax will be fought soon in the Senate, where Republicans remain just short of the 60-vote majority needed to break the promised Democratic filibuster against the bill. Hilton shouldn’t blow out her candles just yet.