Democratic Majority Leader Hoyer Won't Rule Out Estate Tax Hike

By Matt Cover | December 15, 2010 | 6:00 AM EST

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

( – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) would not rule out an attempt by House Democrats to further raise the estate tax above the rates set in the tax deal negotiated between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans.

Hoyer also would not say whether such an effort would come as an amendment to the tax deal or as a separate, stand-alone bill.

Speaking at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Hoyer said there was “concern” among House Democrats over the estate tax compromise that contributed to the deal getting a “pretty cold” reception from many Democrats and some Republicans.

Hoyer noted that in December of 2009, House Democrats passed their own estate tax plan that would have raised the rate to 45 percent on incomes over $3.5 million. Currently, the tax rate is set to rise from zero to 55 percent on incomes over $1 million. The Obama-GOP compromise caps that rise at 35 percent on incomes over $5 million.

Many House Democrats, Hoyer included, think that the rate negotiated by the president is too low and that the income cap is too high. Hoyer did not rule out action by Democrats on the estate tax.

“We’re going to discuss what we’re going to do,” he said, when asked if the overall package might be held up by estate tax concerns. “We’re going to have discussions [about it]. I’m going to advocate for what I think gives the House the ability to reflect its view [on the estate tax].”

Many Democrats, Hoyer said, wanted to do something about the estate tax, characterizing it as a desire to “express their view.”

“There are many members of the House that want to reflect their view on a number of issues in the bill and we’re going to discuss that tonight,” he said.

“We passed $3.5 [million],” Hoyer continued, referring to Democrats’ 2009 estate tax bill. “We’ll see what we’re going to do.”

Hoyer said that he thought a possible estate tax change would probably come as an amendment to a Senate-passed tax deal, saying that House Democrats’ position on the tax was “pretty clear.”

“We haven’t decided that yet [amendment or stand-alone bill] -- that’s being discussed,” Hoyer said. “I think that will be in the context of the tax bill.”