Stop posturing and end marriage tax penalty

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2000

One of the quirks of our tax law - as if there aren't hundreds anyway - is the so-called marriage-penalty. Without getting into the arcane legal definitions, the clause basically means that married couples filing jointly have a lower standard deduction than would two similar singles filing separately.

It's a quirk that Congress has spent years trying to resolve, and it appears there's finally movement to change the deductions. It's also sure to turn into a key political battle for the upcoming presidential race.

Republicans, joined by a few Democrats, are pushing through changes in the tax code to do away with the marriage penalty. President Clinton already has promised to veto the measure, saying it gives too big a break to the upper classes and the proposed tax cuts are too much.

Republicans are moving the measure forward now in an attempt to gain political fodder as the two national parties go into their respective conventions. They hope the president will follow through with his veto, so they can argue the Democrats are anti-family.

The Democrats say the bill favors the rich, and surplus revenues should be going toward paring down the national debt and for a Medicare prescription drug program.

Basically, it's a lot of political posturing on both sides over an issue that is patently unfair. While each side claims it's the ``pro-family'' party, the government still takes more money from you if you're married rather than if two people just lived together.

There are various versions moving through Congress, but all would attempt to raise the standard deductions for married couples. As it stands now, singles get a standard $4,400 deduction, while married couples filing jointly get a standard deduction of $7,350. The various bills would raise the married deduction to $8,800.

We really don't care who gets credit for this. We just believe that married couples should get the same tax breaks that singles do. This bill is expected to impact more than 50 million married couples and it's the right thing to do.

Republicans project the tax change would cost the government about $293 billion over the next 10 years. However, that's a fraction of the estimated $2.7 trillion surplus expected from non-Social Security revenues.

What that means is that in the big picture, this tax credit for married families just isn't going to have that big of an impact on the government's surplus. There's still hundreds of billions of dollars left over to help reduce the debt and for other programs.

The ``marriage penalty'' is just that - a tax penalty for those who are married. Both sides need to quit the political posturing - yes and pigs will fly - and agree on a plan that removes a burden to the American family.

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