WASHINGTON — A top Republican senator is defending his party’s efforts to reduce the hit to the wealthy from the federal estate tax because it helps those who invest rather than people who spend their money on “booze or women or movies.”

Seven-term Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, made the comments late last week in an interview with the Des Moines Register. It has attracted attention since.

Grassley told the newspaper, “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.”

The estate tax affects a very small and very wealthy number of Americans, with only the estates of about 2 out of every 1,000 Americans who die facing the tax.

Under current law, when someone dies the estate owes taxes on the value of assets transferred to heirs above $5.5 million for individuals, $11 million for couples. The Senate bill doubles those limits but does not repeal the tax. The House bill initially doubles the limits and then repeals the entire tax after 2023.

House and Senate Republican negotiators are working out the differences between the two bills, with the goal of completing legislation that Congress can send to President Trump before Christmas.

Farm-state lawmakers and other Republicans have long argued that the estate tax is a harsh hit on small businesses and family farms. The Tax Policy Center has estimated that only 80 small business and small farm estates nationwide will face any estate tax in 2017.