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House Approves $182 Billion Tax Cut for Married Couples

By Janet Hook
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The House voted Thursday to cut the taxes of married couples by $182 billion over the next 10 years, defying a veto threat from President Clinton, who views the potential election year windfall for families as excessive.

The bill, approved 268-158, would reduce the so-called marriage penalty for millions of couples by increasing their standard deduction and allowing more of them to qualify for the lowest tax rate.

“We are going to end one of the most illogical and unfair aspects of the tax code,” said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. “Married people should not pay more in taxes simply because they are married.”

Clinton and the House Democratic leadership support the idea of reducing the marriage penalty but they argue that the Republican-drafted bill is too expensive and too skewed to affluent taxpayers. Compared to Clinton’s proposal to provide $45 billion over 10 years in relief for married couples, the GOP bill is a “two-fisted assault on the U.S. Treasury,” said House Minority Whip David E. Bonior, D-Mich.

Renewing the line of attack Democrats used on various Republican tax-cut proposals last year, Bonior charged that the new GOP bill “would rob America of the dollars it would take to pay down the debt, to strengthen Social Security and to protect Medicare.”

But in a sign of the strong political appeal of slashing the marriage penalty, 48 Democrats defected and voted with 219 Republicans and one independent to pass the GOP bill. Still, enough Democrats opposed it that they deprived Republicans of the two-thirds majority they would need to override a presidential veto.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that it will be debated by mid-March. Democrats plan to offer amendments to scale back the tax cut and add unrelated initiatives, including Clinton’s proposal to provide a prescription drug benefit through Medicare.

These maneuvers -- as well as the core disagreement over the size of the tax cut -- cloud the measure’s future. But lawmakers in both parties insisted that tax reduction for married couples presents one of the most promising opportunities for Clinton and Congress to compromise and enact some tax relief into law this year.

“We can reach some accommodation,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday.

At the core of the debate is a quirk in the tax code that forces about 25 million married couples to pay more in taxes filing jointly than if they remained single and filed separately.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 42 percent of all joint filers incur a penalty averaging $1,400 a year. However, many other joint filers enjoy a marriage “bonus,” and pay less in taxes than they would if they were single.