- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

The House Thursday voted 272-156 to pass legislation that would cut taxes for married couples by $90 billion over the next five years, despite a veto threat from the White House.

"I am very encouraged by the bipartisan vote," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, Texas Republican. A unified Republican caucus was joined by 51 Democrats in voting for the bill.

"I hope that it sends a strong signal to the president that this is a bill he should sign," Mr. Archer said.

A prevailing vote expected Friday in the Senate will send the bill to the White House and force the president to either veto or sign the measure before or during the Republican National Convention.

The measure would apply retroactively to Jan. 1 of this year and as a result is substantially more generous than measures passed by either the House or Senate.

"Is it right, is it fair that under our tax code, 25 million married couples pay an average $1,400 more in taxes just because they are married? Of course not," asked Rep. Jerry Weller, Illinois Republican.

"Our goal is to wipe out the marriage penalty," Mr. Weller said.

The plan would increase the standard deduction for a married couple to $8,800. It would increase the amount of a married couple's income subject to the lowest tax bracket to $52,100.

It would also allow individuals and couples to use various tax credits to reduce their alternative minimum tax (AMT), a separate tax-rate structure created to assure that wealthier taxpayers pay at least some taxes.

Ironically, the measure does not revise the AMT to assure that all middle-income couples can take full advantage of the standard deduction increase and regular tax bracket changes.

"Passing a too-large tax cut, targeted at the wrong people, isn't going to get anything done," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. He criticized the plan for showering benefits on couples that already receive a tax break, the so-called marriage bonus.

In a letter released late Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta accused Congress of being on a spending binge, warning that neither he nor Mr. Clinton's budget advisers would "advise the president to sign various spending or tax bills until we have a fuller accounting of Congress' spending plans for the year."

"Congress is on a course to obliterate a surplus that is the hard-won product of nearly eight years of fiscal discipline," Mr. Podesta wrote.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert called Mr. Podesta's letter "needlessly partisan" and said the specter of Republicans embarking on a spending binge is "pure fantasy."

"I suggest that we will be more successful if we dispense with overblown rhetoric and keep to the business at hand," Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, wrote.

A Democratic alternative rejected in the Senate would have eliminated all marriage penalties in the tax code by allowing couples to file either as a couple or as if single. A House Democratic plan would have also split its benefits evenly between marriage-penalty and marriage-bonus families.

With federal surpluses now projected to add to $1.7 trillion over the next five years, Republicans argued that their marriage tax plan represents just a nickel on the dollar of extra money taxpayers are sending Washington.

Democrats counter that $1 trillion of that surplus comes from Social Security and that various tax cuts passed by the House this year would cost another $80 billion a year when in full effect.

The bill originally passed the House 269-159.

Democrats who switched their votes included Reps. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who had voted no, but Thursday voted yes.

Rep. Michael P. Forbes, New York Democrat, did not vote on the original bill, but Thursday voted yes. Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, voted yes originally, but did not vote Thursday. And Rep. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, originally voted yes, but Thursday voted no.

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