House votes to end marriage penalty in U.S. tax code

Measure might encounter resistance in Senate because of deficits

April 29, 2004|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The House voted yesterday to end the tax code's "marriage penalty" permanently in the first of a series of GOP efforts to highlight popular elements of President Bush's tax cuts before the November election.

As part of Bush's 2001 tax cut, the House voted to end a quirk in the law that forced many married couples to pay more in taxes if they filed jointly than if they filed as individuals. But the tax relief was temporary, with the benefit decreasing next year and expiring at the end of the decade.

Eliminating the marriage penalty is one of the few provisions of Bush's tax cuts that his presumptive Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, has said he supports. The measure cleared the House on a 323-95 vote.

But it is likely to face resistance in the Senate, where even some members of Bush's own party have expressed concern about making permanent some tax cuts at a time of record budget deficits. Repealing the marriage penalty would cost the Treasury $105 billion over the next decade.

Bush has urged Congress to extend the $1.7 trillion in tax cuts permanently, contending that failing to do so would lead to tax increases and could slow down economic growth.

"Tax relief has greatly helped the economy weather the storms of recent years and fueled the economic recovery under way today," the White House said in a statement.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican and a leading advocate of repealing the tax, said she believed that the Senate would extend the relief, but acknowledged that it would be difficult to win approval this year for ending it altogether.

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Va.,-based budget watchdog group, described the House vote as "more politics than policy."

"Permanent tax cut extensions are going nowhere in the Senate this year," he added.

The measure approved by the House yesterday, like the 2001 tax cut, goes beyond providing tax relief to couples who paid a marriage penalty - an estimated 42 percent of all joint filers - and gives relief to all married couples.

The measure would make permanent the provisions of the 2001 tax cut that increased the standard deduction and 15 percent tax bracket for married couples to twice that of single taxpayers. The relief was accelerated in a tax bill signed last year. Also reduced was the penalty for low-income couples who receive the earned income tax credit.

Unless the relief is extended, 27 million couples will face an average tax increase of $300 next year and 35 million couples will face an average increase of $700 in 2011, the bill's proponents said.

While 102 Democrats joined 220 Republicans and one independent in voting for the measure, Democrats expressed concern that the GOP-drafted bill failed to address the cost of making the tax cut permanent - a cost that would hit the government hard as baby boomers begin to retire.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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