The House voted 272-162 yesterday to permanently repeal the estate tax, throwing the issue to the Senate, where negotiations have begun...

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WASHINGTON — The House voted 272-162 yesterday to permanently repeal the estate tax, throwing the issue to the Senate, where negotiations have begun on a deep and permanent estate-tax cut that could pass this year, even if it falls short of full repeal.

The House vote pitted repeal proponents, who say a tax on inheritances is fundamentally unfair, against Democrats, who questioned how Congress could support a tax cut largely for the affluent that would cost $290 billion over 10 years in the face of record budget deficits.

“This is reverse Robin Hood,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We’re taking money from the middle class and giving it to the super-rich.”

“The death of a family member should not be a taxable event, period,” said Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., the bill’s sponsor.

By a 194-238 vote, the House rejected a Democratic counteroffer, which would have shielded $3.5 million of an estate’s value from taxation, enough to exempt 99.7 percent of estates from the inheritance tax, according to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Members then approved the measure, strongly backed by the White House, that would make a full repeal permanent. The repeal is currently scheduled to take effect in 2010, then disappear in 2011.

Washington Republicans Richard “Doc” Hastings of Pasco, Cathy McMorris of Spokane and Dave Reichert of Bellevue voted for full repeal, as did Democrat Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens. Democrats Brian Baird of Olympia, Norm Dicks of Bremerton, Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, Jim McDermott of Seattle and Adam Smith of Tacoma voted against it.

The real fight will come in the Senate, where repeal supporters appear just short of the 60-vote majority needed to break a promised Democratic filibuster.

The GOP leadership, backed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, has authorized Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to strike a deal that will win 60 votes. For the Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is leading negotiations.

President Bush’s 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001 included a phaseout of the estate tax by 2010, but the tax is reinstated in 2011 when the 2001 tax law expires. As those dates approach and concern grows over record deficits, some family-owned businesses and affluent heirs have begun appealing to lawmakers for a deal that would provide estate-planning certainty, even if it means setting aside full repeal.

Washington state delegation’s vote was provided by The Associated Press