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Rich Congressmen More Likely To Oppose Estate Tax, Study Finds

01/23/2013 02:27 pm ET

If you suspect that lawmakers advocate for their own interests, the findings of a new study may confirm your suspicions.

Wealthier Congressmen are more likely to support cutting or repealing the estate tax, a tax on assets bequeathed to heirs after death, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Notre Dame. This holds true on both roll call votes and bill co-sponsorships, regardless of political party, Congressmen's general attitude toward taxes and their constituents' opinions, the study found.

Between 2005 and 2006, nearly half of all members of Congress with assets of more than $1 million co-sponsored at least one bill that would reform or repeal the estate tax, according to the study.

The estate tax, sometimes referred to as the "death tax," has been surprisingly difficult to increase, even though it affects only the wealthy. For example, it will only affect 0.14 percent of the people who die this year, according to the Tax Policy Center. If the government had done nothing, the top estate tax rate would have spiked to 55 percent on Jan. 1, and the estate tax would have impacted all estates worth more than $1 million. But instead, the government maintained the threshold at roughly $5 million and increased the top estate tax rate to 40 percent.

Congressmen are significantly richer than the rest of the country, and members of the House of Representatives have been getting richer. The average U.S. Representative had a net worth of $6.5 million in 2011, up from $4.3 million in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The average U.S. Senator had a net worth of $13.9 million in 2011, slightly lower than in 2004.

Meanwhile, the median U.S. household's net worth was just $66,740 in 2010, 35 percent lower than in 2005, according to the Census Bureau.

(Hat tip: The Raw Story.)

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