Tis impossible to be sure of anything

Age of the Geek Column: In case you hadn't heard, Senate Republicans actually fulfilled a campaign promise by passing a tax reform bill… in the middle of the night… that had been published for review mere hours before… with amendments literally scribbled on the sides of pages.

We get the government we vote for.

It's too early to tell what the final bill will look like once the House and the Senate reconcile it into its final form, but a few things are certain. The poor will be largely unaffected until the $1 trillion that the plan adds to the deficit is used to justify cuts in entitlement spending. About half the people in the middle will see a negligible benefit until 2025 when the tax cuts that benefit them the most expire, at which point they will doubtlessly be used as leverage to negotiate for even more tax cuts for the rich, as is what happened in 2010 when the Bush Tax Cuts were scheduled to expire.

And, to nobody's surprise, the rich will get richer and the children of the rich will stay rich. The Republican tax plan includes numerous changes that benefit the wealthy, key among them being an adjustment to the federal estate tax. Referred to as the "Death Tax" or the "Paris Hilton Tax," depending on your point of view, the estate tax currently taxes estates over $5.49 million (doubled for married couples) at 40 percent. Keep in mind, that's 40 percent of the estate after the first $5.49 (or 11) million is inherited tax free.

One can debate whether or not death should be a taxable event. It hardly seems fair to tax somebody for their parents dying, but wealth tends to accumulate around itself and income inequality is bad enough already, even with this moderating factor in play.

In spite of this being a tax that 99.9 percent of Americans will never have to worry about, Republicans have been pounding the war drums against it for years. Almost as though they are disproportionately focused on policies that exclusively benefit people at the top .1 percent of incomes.

As our own Senator Charles Grassley told NPR last week, repealing the estate tax is important to him because he wants to "show appreciation for people that have lived frugally early in their life, delayed spending so they could save," adding, "It seems to me there ought to be some incentive and reward for those who work and save and invest in America as opposed to those who just live from day to day."

Yep. Millionaires who have so much disposable income that they can safely invest their excess without worrying about paying their rent or buying groceries should be rewarded. After all, this is America. All it takes to get a multi-million dollar estate of your own is some penny-pinching and solid financial planning. Or, as Grassley told the Des Moines Register, "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing … as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies."

That's right. In the same line of thinking that brought us the idea that families with smart phones don't deserve affordable health insurance, now apparently we need to give up on the frivolities of date night before we are worthy of Republican consideration.

Ignoring, just for a moment, Senator Grassley's unfettered contempt for those of us that live paycheck to paycheck, who exactly does he think he is talking about when he says that people investing in America should be rewarded? Last time I checked, shuffling your money over to Switzerland and Bermuda to avoid paying taxes doesn't count as "investing in America," but those are the people and companies getting the bulk of the tax breaks.

It's no coincidence that crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indigogo, and GoFundMe have ballooned in the last decade as the gap between the rich and the poor has expanded. While the wealthy horde their fortunes in tax havens, the rest of us have to make due with what little remains. Crowdfunding bypasses the need for large investors, shifting the risk of financing to the masses. The people investing in America today are the ones that want to see something done, but can only invest a few dollars in a project, rather than a few million.

We live in a consumer driven economy. The people Grassley says aren't deserving of a reward. The people "living day to day" and "spending every darn penny they have." They are the people that keep our economy running.

Me personally, I'd say I probably spend about $200 a year supporting our local theaters and Iowa's blossoming wine industry. I know. Booze and movies. Shame on me, right.

That $200 would be much better spent if I didn't waste it on such frivolities and invested it like a good capitalist.

Let's do some math to see what that looks like in Chuck Grassley's world.

If I invested that $200 a year, never touched a dime of it, and saw an astounding 15 percent annual return, by 2091 I would have a portfolio worth $54,696,864.23. Assuming an average of three percent annual inflation, the current estate tax would tax 40 percent of everything after the first $53,204,452.78. So, if I die at the ripe old age of 107, the federal government would take about $597,000 of my estate, leaving me $54.1 million to pass down to nobody because I never bought a girl a drink or took her to a movie.

Grassley must think that when I die at 107, having missed the last 300 Star Wars and Marvel Studios movies while forgetting the taste of a good blueberry wine, I'll be glad to know that my investment helped a Wall Street stockbroker buy a third vacation home while the corporations my money was invested in used it to fill an actual Scrooge McDuck style money bin in the Cayman Islands for the Koch Brother's great-grandchildren to dive into. And, with my dying breath, I'll thank Chuck Grassley for making sure that about one percent of my hard-earned investment doesn't go to the government, who would probably just waste it on things like food for poor people or healthcare for children.

Or maybe I'll just have a drink and go to the movies instead.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and can't wait for his tax break to be absorbed by rising health care costs.