Recent Op-Eds

The Fight to Save the Farm

By Sen. John Thune

August 15, 2021

The long, sun-soaked days of summer have started to shorten, and for kids across the country that can only mean one thing: back to school. In suburban communities or coastal cities, the end of summer might signal the end of family beach trips or days spent lounging by the pool. But for farm families in South Dakota, it unfortunately means one less set of hands – or more – to help with the seemingly endless tasks of summer.


Picking rock with your sister, moving cows, fixing fence with grandpa, and long days in the field eating lunch – and probably supper – in the cab of a tractor is the summertime norm for most farm kids. It’s what their parents and their parents’ parents likely did too – even without the luxury of an air-conditioned cab. From a very young age, kids in rural America are taught to understand the value of a hard day’s work. No one thinks twice about getting their hands dirty. It’s exactly what the generations before them worked so hard to preserve through all of the ups and downs that exist on a family farm.


If you grew up in a rural community like the ones scattered throughout South Dakota you might be surprised that Democrats in Washington are now proposing tax cuts for coastal elites and all the free stuff you can imagine by taxing this way of life – your way of life. It’s becoming clear that for Washington Democrats success and hard work isn’t something to be celebrated, but something that should be taxed.


Our current tax code provides for something called “step-up in basis.” That’s Washington jargon for this: If you’re left something by a loved one who died – whether that’s land or a house – the value of that item is automatically “stepped up” from its original value to its current market value when you receive it. You don’t have to pay taxes on that increase, and you shouldn’t have to. Those gains over time are often unrealized. In other words, you didn’t profit from the increased value while the asset remained in the family. It allows your grandparents and parents to pass the family operation from one generation to the next without penalty. Unfortunately, Democrats want to get rid of this longstanding tax policy, but not if I have anything to do with it. 


During my time in Congress, I have helped lead the fight against the death tax. And now I am doing the same with what would amount to a double death tax on South Dakota’s family-run farms, ranches, and small businesses.


I recently introduced an amendment to the Democrats’ budget blueprint to highlight the importance of preventing this double death tax from becoming law. It was approved 99 to 0, and I’m glad all of my Democrat colleagues acknowledged how problematic this change in law could be, but don’t be fooled by their vote. Unfortunately, immediately after passing my bipartisan amendment, all but one Democrat also voted for a watered down version. Long story short, they’re doing legislative gymnastics and trying to have it both ways, and if they get their way, I have no doubt it will be a death blow to rural communities in South Dakota.


Now, summertime in these rural communities isn’t all work and no play. There is 4-H and rodeo, fairs to showcase art, produce, and livestock. Maybe there’s a baseball or softball game, too. But the fun stuff usually comes after the days’ chores are done. Life typically revolves around family and community, and it is all underpinned by hard work and sacrifice.


Farming and ranching isn’t just an occupation, it’s a way of life for the whole family, and it is one to be proud of. And as far as I am concerned, Democrats in Washington could stand to learn a few of these lessons from the heartland.


This fight is far from over. I will continue to do everything in my power to stop the Democrats’ attempt to fund a reckless tax-and-spending spree on the backs of hardworking South Dakota families, farmers, and ranchers. The South Dakota way of life, and the preservation of the family farm, is certainly something worth fighting for. I always will.