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Congress gives final approval to marriage penalty tax relief

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate gave final approval July 21 to legislation alleviating the penalty for married couples under the federal tax code.

The Senate voted 60-34 for the bill one day after the House of Representatives passed the compromise version 271-156. The Senate had approved an earlier version of the bill July 18, but it differed from one approved by the House. A conference committee consisting of members of both houses was appointed quickly and negotiated a final bill to present to Congress.

The bill is designed to address portions of the tax code that penalize taxpayers for being married. Under the code, more than 20 million married couples pay a yearly average of about $1,400 more in taxes than they would if they lived together without being married.

President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill without approval of another piece of legislation. If Congress approves Medicare prescription drug coverage for senior adults, he will sign the marriage tax relief bill, Clinton said. Republican leaders, however, appear unlikely to grant the president’s request.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-family organizations applauded passage of a measure they described as a matter of tax fairness rather than a tax cut.

The bill “affirms the high value of the family and marriage in our society,” ERLC President Richard Land said. “It is praiseworthy whenever government takes such a bold step to encourage and not discourage the traditional institution of marriage.

“With American families under tremendous social and moral pressures, the current tax code only adds to these already significant hardships on the family as it penalizes married couples by increasing their tax burden over the tax liability they would bear if they filed separately as unmarried individuals,” Land said.

“Taxation is public policy. One of the oldest truisms in public policy is: ‘That which you tax decreases, and that which you subsidize increases.'”

The legislation raises the standard deduction for married couples to twice the deduction for people filing as singles, beginning next year. It also expands the 15 percent tax bracket for married couples to twice as much as for single taxpayers, beginning in 2003 and phased in during a five-year period. The bill, beginning in 2001, would increase by $2,000 the amount a married couple may earn under earned income tax credit.

“Only in Washington could marriage be considered a taxable offense,” Rep. J.C. Watts, R.-Okla., said in a written release. “That’s simply wrong. This is a great day for married couples trying to make ends meet.”

Clinton and his Democratic allies favor targeting lower-income families with relief rather than eliminating the marriage penalty more comprehensively.