Today the House passed HR 4154 to make permanent the $3.5 million individual federal estate tax exemption and 45% federal gift and estate tax rate (and to avoid the scheduled repeal of the federal estate tax in 2010). It appears that all Republicans and 26 Democrats voted against the bill -- I will update this information if my numbers are off. From what I hear from others closer to Washington, the Senate won't pass the bill without significant changes. Chances are there isn't time to do this by the end of the year.
According to an article by Arthur D. Postal today in National Underwriter Life and Health Insurance News:
Observers expect the Senate to pass a measure that will merely extend the current rate on a temporary basis. The Senate probably will deal with the issue when it works on comprehensive tax reform legislation in 2010.
Although the House acted today, the future of the federal estate tax is still anybody's guess.