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President vetoes bill to relieve tax penalty for married couples

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton vetoed legislation to remedy the penalty for married couples in the federal tax code, and Republican leaders in Congress promised to work to overcome his action.

The Marriage Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, H.R. 4810, is “poorly targeted and one part of a costly and regressive tax plan that reverses the principle of fiscal responsibility that has contributed” to lengthy economic growth, the president said in an Aug. 5 written statement announcing his veto.

Rep. J.C. Watts, R.-Okla., expressed his dismay over the veto, saying Clinton “let down 25 million American couples today who would have spent the extra $1,400 in savings on their children’s education, a new washer or dryer, or a down payment on a car. In a time of a federal budget surplus, Americans deserve to get their hard-earned tax dollars back.”

Watts, chairman of the House of Representatives Republican Conference, said in a written release his party will “work night and day to override President Clinton’s veto because married couples should not be penalized for saying ‘I do'” at their wedding.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-family organizations support the bill. When it received final approval in Congress, ERLC President Richard Land called it a “bold step to encourage” marriage, saying the current tax code adds to the “already significant hardships on the family” by penalizing married couples.

If an override is successful, the bill would raise the standard deduction for married couples to twice the deduction for people filing as singles, beginning next year. It also would expand 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.

Under the tax code’s current provisions, about 25 million married couples pay a yearly average of about $1,400 more in taxes than they would if they lived together without being married.

An override effort does not appear promising. The final version of the bill adopted in July did not receive a two-thirds majority in either the Senate or House. A two-thirds vote is necessary to override a veto. The Senate vote was 60-34, while the House count was 271-156.

Clinton and his Democratic allies favor targeting lower-income families with relief rather than eliminating the marriage penalty in the more comprehensive manner of the congressionally approved proposal. The president has said, however, he would sign the tax-relief bill if Congress approves Medicare prescription drug coverage for senior adults. Republican leaders have demonstrated no likelihood of granting Clinton’s request.

The veto occurred with Congress in recess. It will reconvene Sept. 5.