- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

The House passed a permanent end to the income-tax marriage penalty yesterday, the latest in a series of votes to make parts of last year's $1.35 trillion tax cut permanent, but the Senate is not likely to act on the bill.
Under last year's tax cut, the marriage penalty the amount a married couple pay to the Internal Revenue Service above what they would if they were not married would have been reimposed in 2011.
"We don't want to have a $42 billion annual tax increase that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2011, because people are married," said House Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.
The measure to make marriage-penalty relief permanent, which has the backing of the Bush administration, passed the House 271-142, with one independent and 60 Democrats joining 210 Republicans in voting for it, and 141 Democrats and one independent voting against it.
Democrats said the bill is irrelevant until 2011, and Republicans' push to pass it exposes the whole exercise as political theater.
"There's one big event between today and January 2011, and you know what it is? It's the November 2002 elections," said Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka, Wisconsin Democrat. "What we're doing today is nothing but politics to benefit some members of the House."
Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer said Republicans are on a "fiscal irresponsibility rampage" and said the cost of the bill $63 billion in the next 10 years and $330 billion the following decade will come out of the Social Security Trust Fund.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said, "At this point, my sense is we've been there and done that."
House Democrats advanced their alternative, which would have made permanent repeal contingent on the future budget picture, but that failed on a mostly party-line vote.
Republicans said they would prefer to have the bill passed but are happy to have the tax issues to run on. They say 35 million couples pay an average penalty of $1,400 and that most of them make between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.
Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and head of House Republicans' "Theme Team," said the marriage penalty may not be as powerful an issue as the estate tax, which has groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business pushing it. But he said it makes for an "easy philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans."
"It's just one more tax-relief measure that Tom Daschle's going to sit on, and that's something House Democrats are going to have to answer for their [partys] leadership," he said.
To drive the point home, Rep. Jerry Weller, the Illinois Republican who led the floor fight for the bill yesterday, followed most Democratic speakers' remarks by noting how many married couples in their districts pay the marriage penalty.
Yesterday's vote was the latest in a series House Republicans have held to make individual parts of the president's package permanent. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans failed to win the 60 votes needed to make the repeal of the estate tax permanent. The vote was 54-44.
Some Republican challengers already have announced they will use that vote against Democratic senators in November's elections.
They will target three Democratic senators up for re-election who voted for the complete Bush tax-cut package but voted against making the estate-tax repeal permanent. They were Sens. Tim Johnson from South Dakota, Jean Carnahan from Missouri and Robert G. Torricelli from New Jersey.
"It's an absolutely huge vote in South Dakota, and Mr. Johnson made a terrible mistake," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the campaign of Rep. John Thune, who is running against Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson voted for the Democrats' alternative plan that they said would exempt farms and businesses passed within a family from the estate tax and do it sooner than the Republican plan. His campaign said that vote is easy to defend.
"He voted yesterday for the bill that was best for South Dakota's family farmers and business owners," said Dan Pfeiffer, spokesman for the campaign. "Why John Thune is so passionately interested in the well-being of out-of-state millionaires is something he's going to have to explain to the voters of South Dakota."
Seven senators who voted in favor of last year's tax cuts voted against Wednesday's bill: Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Carnahan, Mr. Torricelli, John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin all Democrats and James M. Jeffords of Vermont, the chamber's lone independent.
Three Democratic senators up for re-election voted for the tax cuts both last year and Wednesday: Sen. Max Cleland from Georgia, Sen. Max Baucus from Montana, and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu from Louisiana. Another three Democrats not up for re-election also voted for the tax cuts both times: Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia.

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