- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

House Democrats yesterday defeated an effort to override President Clinton's veto of a Republican package of tax breaks for married couples a vote the GOP plans to make an election issue.

With 428 members voting, the 270-158 vote on the "marriage penalty" fell 16 votes short of the two-thirds required to override the veto. Forty-nine Democrats joined all 220 Republicans and one independent who voted to override, with 157 Democrats and one independent voting to back the president.

"We gave the president the opportunity to repeal the marriage tax penalty … but he's against that," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said after the vote.

Said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas: "Americans understand it is wrong to tax marriage. We will have to put it up on the floor next year and have a president who will sign it."

Mr. Clinton said the tax cut which would have reduced married couples' taxes by an average of $750 annually and $292 billion over 10 years is part of an irresponsible Republican plan to spend a huge projected surplus of taxpayer money.

"As today's vote demonstrates, the majority in Congress still seems to be determined to knock America off this path of fiscal discipline with a 10-year tax plan that will drain nearly $2 trillion from the surplus and drive us back into deficits," Mr. Clinton said.

House Democrats agreed.

"You don't want to pass laws. You want to pass bills that are going to be vetoed," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, to Republicans.

The marriage-penalty relief under consideration yesterday would have helped both double-income families and families with one income. The Republican bill would have increased the standard deduction for married couples from $7,350 to $8,800 and increased from $43,850 to $52,500 the amount of a married couple's income that would be subject to the 15 percent tax rate.

The bill also would have increased the number of married couples eligible for the earned income tax credit.

When in full effect, the bill would have given the nation's about 50 million married couples an average of about $750 a year in tax relief, according to an analysis of estimates provided by the Joint Committee on Taxation.

There was little doubt as to the vote's outcome. Except for a handful of switches, the 270-158 vote was nearly identical to the one July 20 that sent the bill to the White House.

"I had hoped some people might heed their conscience [and] change their vote," Mr. Hastert said.

Still, the vote gave Republicans ammunition to use in the fall campaigns.

"[Americans] will have to vote for new leadership in the White House if they want fairness and justice in the tax code," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, Texas Republican.

Mr. Hastert added there now is "absolutely" no chance of doing away with the marriage tax penalty this year. "If [the president] is not for tax relief, then the next choice is that we pay down the debt and that's where we are going."

On Tuesday afternoon at a White House meeting, Mr. Hastert and other Republicans floated a plan to use about $240 billion of federal revenues in 2001 to pay down the federal debt. That would give budget negotiators about $28 billion in projected federal surpluses to use for either tax cuts or increased spending.

But House Minority Whip David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, said the effort to override the marriage tax bill veto is just a part of an effort to enact $943 billion in tax cuts over the next decade, which would prevent paying down the debt.

"It is time to mean what you say and say what you mean," Mr. Bonior said.

Mr. Rangel said Republicans were holding the marriage penalty bill "hostage," noting that at their meeting with Mr. Clinton on Tuesday, Republican leaders did not mention marriage-penalty or estate-tax relief or a general tax cut.

Mr. Clinton last month vetoed a $105 billion measure that would have abolished estate taxes over 10 years.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, called on Republicans to "stop the posturing," arguing that the vetoed tax bill would have "extended about 60 percent of its benefits to the wealthy … who do not pay a marriage penalty."

Rep. Jerry Weller, Illinois Republican, said the House Democratic alternative included an increase to the standard deduction identical to the one proposed by Republicans.

He said that provision helps both the families that pay a marriage penalty and those that receive a marriage bonus, "yet they attack us."

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, dismissed that attack as rhetoric.

"Someone, not me, might say they were being disingenuous," he said.

Democrats counter that their provision includes language to assure that the alternative minimum tax would not have eroded the benefit of the increase to the standard deduction.

According to Democrats of the House Ways and Means Committee, because the Republican plan does not contain a similar provision, families would have received about one-fourth less of a tax cut than they would have expected when the Republican plan was in full effect.

If the marriage penalty is left to the presidential campaign to decide, its outcome will still be uncertain.

Republican nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush has taken an entirely different tack than congressional Republicans. He would allow two-earner couples to take a deduction worth 10 percent of the income of the lower earning spouse. The deduction, worth up to a maximum of $3,000 would ease the marriage penalty, but do nothing for families with a stay-at-home spouse.

On the other hand, Vice President Al Gore has backed the idea of increasing the standard deduction for married couples. But that is at odds with a Senate Democratic plan to simply allow married couples to choose to file as if they were still single.

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