The fate of the estate tax is yet unknown, as the Senate still needs to address the issue. With health care reform trumping all other issues in Congress, it's unlikely the estate tax will come up for discussion before senators break for the winter holiday.

"Health care is sucking all of the oxygen out of the air," said Brad Hoaglun, senior policy adviser and director of communications for Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.

The Senate also has other big issues on its plate, such as reauthorization of the Small Business Administration, budget bills, additional troops to Afghanistan and the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Lindsay Nothern, Sen. Mike Crapo's press secretary, also said consideration of the estate tax is an unlikelihood before the break.

Crapo would like to see action on the bill before the end of the year, however.

"Unfortunately, Senate leadership has chosen to go in a different direction and set artificial deadlines on this health care bill, when it should be working on things that have real deadlines for the American people," Crapo said.

-- Carol Ryan Dumas

Both Risch and Crapo support a permanent repeal of the tax, but the consensus among lawmakers is that won't happen under the current administration. But that doesn't mean they would support what the House passed.

"Senator Crapo has always supported a full, permanent repeal of the estate tax," Nothern said. The bill passed by the House falls short of the goal of protecting family farms and small businesses, he said.

Hoaglun said Risch would also rather see the so-called "death tax" go away.

"Will it go away? Probably not," he said.

In lieu of a repeal, the senator might have to go with the less-painful option of a $5 million exemption with a 35 percent tax rate, preferred by ag groups, he said.

-- Carol Ryan Dumas

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