- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

There are 44 million Americans who pay a high price every year for walking down the aisle to say, "I do." It's called the marriage tax, and if House Republicans get their way, couples wouldn't have to say, "I don't," to avoid it.

Today the House is scheduled to take up the "Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Reconciliation Act," which overwhelmingly passed both House and Senate chambers earlier this year only to be vetoed by President Clinton. It's not clear there are sufficient votes to override the veto, in part because some Democrats who originally supported the measure are expected to rally to the presidential and party line. That's unfortunate because inviting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to every wedding feast can be an expensive proposition.

The marriage tax results in part from the graduated income tax schedule under which this country labors. Single workers pay a 15 percent tax on income up to $26,250. Above that they pay 28 percent. Thus, two persons who are "married" in every sense but the nuptial and legal kind can continue to pay at the 15 percent rate so long as each remains below the $26,250 cap. Not so the married couple. The government treats husband and wife as a single earner, who must pay the 28 percent rate on everything above not $52,500 (or double the cap for singles) but only $43,850. They pay higher rates than singles on combined income between $43,850 and $52,500 solely because of their marital status.

That's not the only way the government punishes matrimony. Single persons enjoy a standard deduction on their tax returns of $4,400. If married man and wife got equal treatment from the IRS, their standard deduction would be $8,800. It's not. It's just $7,350. So not only do married persons pay a higher rate than singles. They pay it on more of their income.

Finally, existing law also singles out married, low-income persons for punishment. Two persons with one child each receive a tax credit so long as each earns less than $27,413. But if the same persons get married, they lose the credit because their combined income is above the $31,149 cap for married couples.

All told, reports the Congressional Budget Office, 44 million Americans pay an average marriage penalty of $1,480 each year. Their only "crime," says William Beach of the Heritage Foundation, is that they got married.

The bill on which House members are voting would increase the 15 percent tax bracket and the standard deduction to ensure couples get the same tax treatment as their single counterparts. It would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit so that low-income couples could earn more before losing the tax credit. But President Clinton seems so worried that somewhere, somehow a wealthy taxpayer may benefit from marriage tax relief that he is willing to deny everyone else, including low-income couples, the same benefit. Lawmakers should override his veto, or be prepared to continue inviting the IRS to every wedding.

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