Maggie Gallagher
What's the Democrats' problem with decent pro-marriage tax reform? Just before the Senate passed a marriage tax relief bill worth about $250 billion over 10 years, President Clinton denounced the GOP for its "reckless" tax cuts. Too much marriage relief, for too many married couples who are too affluent, the Democrats said, preferring their own, teensy marriage tax cut that limits relief to two-income married couples.

The claim that $250 billion a year is "too much" for marriage is pretty hard to make, given new Congressional Budget Office estimates of a $2.2 trillion budget surplus over the next 10 years -- not counting a dime of the Social Security trust fund. In fact, the CBO found $300 billion more in tax overpayments than the White House estimated just a few weeks ago. If the money is there, how do you explain Democrats' continuing resistance to this popular pro-family tax cut?

At a news conference Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle tried. "This is an abomination," Daschle said, pointing out "irreconcilable differences between Republicans and Democrats on the marriage penalty." What differences? Daschle made three arguments, all of which point to many Democrats' continuing uneasiness (beneath their lip-service support) for pro-marriage tax reform. First, "Their legislation actually creates a singles penalty," said Daschle. The GOP plan does no such thing. Not a single unmarried person will face a tax increase. But in the Democrats' view, if you try to help married couples, you are ipso facto hurting singles.

Second, Daschle charged the GOP's version "lopsidedly favors those at the very top of the economic scale, at the expense of the middle class." Sen. Ted Kennedy, that great patron of marriage, echoed this charge, according to the L.A. Times, calling the GOP bill "plums for the rich and crumbs for everyone else." The terrible truth is that it is the Democrats who are trying to give assistance only to the more affluent two-income families -- offering plums to two-career couples and not even crumbs to hard-working families who keep a parent at home. In 1996, according to the Census Bureau, the median income of a married couple family with a wife in the labor force was $58,381, compared to just $33,748 for married couples without a wife in the labor force. If you looked at marriages with two full-time workers (the prime beneficiaries of the Democratic proposal), the affluence gap would be even larger.

Even supposedly centrist Democrats such as Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh are willing to use the marriage penalty issue to stick it to homemakers. While his GOP gubernatorial opponent, Rep. David McIntosh, promotes comprehensive pro-marriage tax reform, Sen. Bayh introduced yet another Democratic marriage tax cut on April 4 that only two-income couples can apply for. Under Bayh's proposal, like Clinton's, a one-income family making $50,000 will pay much higher taxes than a two-income family with the same income.

That is Daschle's final objection to the GOP marriage tax cut: "60 percent of the Republican benefit goes to those who have no marriage penalty -- in fact, who have a marriage bonus." He means those undeserving homemakers living on a median family income of $33,000 a year. The claim they get a "marriage bonus" has been repeated ad nauseum, but it is complete hogwash. Think about it: If those homemaking married moms were not married, they would be single mothers, eligible for a whole host of federal benefits, from welfare, subsidized medical and child care, to the earned income tax credit.

Just what is it with these Democrats? Propose ending the marriage penalty in a way that's also fair to homemakers, and suddenly that's just "too much" money for marriage tax relief?


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.