- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

A strange thing happened in the U.S. House of Representatives recently. Republicans and Democrats came together to pass an important piece of legislation by an overwhelming majority — even though it is an election year.

Now, Americans should hope the U.S. Senate will do an equally strange thing — in the interest of our nation — and pass the same bill, too.

The legislation in question is a bill to make permanent some recent changes in the tax code that have been very good for families. These changes eliminate something often called the “marriage penalty” in federal taxation.

The marriage penalty, which first arose more by accident than by design, used to occur when two single taxpayers with relatively modest incomes married. Suddenly, the combined income of this new couple put them in a higher tax bracket than either of them were in as single people.

Put another way, the act of getting married required them to pay more taxes together than the two of them would have combined to pay had they remained single.

Recognizing this marriage penalty was both terribly unfair and incredibly unwise — given the importance of marital stability to social well-being — President Bush proposed to eliminate the marriage penalty as part of his 2001 tax cuts.

Unfortunately, at the time, there weren’t enough offsetting budget savings to make this change in the tax treatment of married couples permanent. So, Congress agreed to adopt the President’s proposal for several years … but only for several years.

Which is why the recent House action was so important — and why bipartisan cooperation in the Senate is still needed.

You see, if both Houses of Congress do not pass legislation ending the marriage penalty forever and ever, some married couples will see their tax bill begin to rise as early as 2005. And continue to rise each year until 2010.

Fortunately, House Republicans and Democrats set aside their differences and passed a bill permanently eliminating the marriage penalty by a whopping 23-to-95 margin.

To their credit, 102 Democrats supported the measure. And some of these Democratic legislators worked hard to ensure the bill included an important provision for working poor families that pay only Social Security and not income taxes.

Now, the Senate must act. What is needed is the same spirit of bipartisanship the House showed.

Marriage should not be a political football legislators kick back and forth. Given the reams of social science research showing kids do best growing up in a home with a mother and a father, legislators in both parties should work to ensure the marriage penalty never resurfaces. And married people should have every opportunity to thrive in our society.

Let’s hope the U.S. Senate gets that message. If so, it will do something as strange as the House did — although it’s an election year. And American families and children will benefit from congressional leadership on behalf of an institution older — and more important — than either political party.

Matt Daniels is a lawyer and political scientist who is the founder of the Alliance for Marriage, a nonpartisan, multicultural coalition dedicated to ensuring more children are raised in a home with a mother and a father.

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