In a vote that almost fell completely along party lines, the U.S. Senate rejected the so-called "trifecta bill"--an effort to link the elimination of the Estate Tax with an increase in the minimum wage and the extension of a small group of corporate tax cuts. The bill was strongly supported by the White House and is generally perceived as a major defeat for President Bush. Despite the inclusion of targeted tax breaks and the minimum wage hike, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was unable to win enough Democratic votes to secure passage.
An examination of the roll call vote produces some interesting information. First, Sen. Frist was able to lure Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia by including tax breaks and deregulation aimed at the coal mining industry. Sen. Byrd was considered a critical vote and most likely wouldn't have supported the legislation without these incentives. Another Democratic vote for the plan was cast by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. Florida's high number of retirees is the likely reason that Nelson voted for repeal.
Although Sen. Frist also included targeted tax breaks for the timber industry, Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Pat Murray ultimately voted against the legislation. Even more interesting is the nay vote cast by Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Sen. Chafee is currently the target of a primary challenge from conservatives who say he is too liberal. Despite this pressure, Sen. Chafee chose to vote against fiscal irresponsibility. It seems likely that he cast this vote with one eye on the general election--Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly disapprove of President Bush and Sen. Chafee needs to distance himself from the White House.
Ultimately, no amount of political intrigue can cover the obvious: the movement to repeal the Estate Tax has been dealt a serious blow. However, the fight is not over. Sen. Frist has vowed to reintroduce the measure before the November election. Hoping that voters will ignore the fiscal implications of the Estate Tax repeal, Republican strategists hope to paint Democrats as opponents of a minimum wage hike. Hopefully this proposal will remain dead and not become an issue in 2006.