Because of a projected $5.9 trillion revenue surplus over the next 15 years, both sides of the Senate are working on different 10-year plans that will provide general tax relief in various areas. But a Republican-sponsored plan that would eliminate the marriage penalty stands out. The marriage penalty, which forces couples who file jointly to pay more, is unnecessary and should be eliminated.
The marriage penalty affects more than 21 million couples, causing them to pay an average of $1,400 more in federal taxes than they would if they filed as singles. Limits on itemized deductions for married couples are less than two times the limits for singles.
The proposed plan would include increasing the existing $7,200 standard deduction for married couples filing jointly to $8,600, the current deduction for those who file under single status. The plan would also reduce or eliminate differences between singles and couples on Roth IRAs and student loans. The cost of the tax break is about $25 billion.
The current system functions in a way that rewards families that have only one main earner, penalizing the ever-increasing number of dual income families. In fact, in many middle- to low-income families it is vital for both spouses to work outside the home. A couple should not be penalized for working hard; the system needs to be updated to account for the dramatic change in family economics over the last few decades.
Some suggest yet another problem with the marriage penalty is that it discourages couples from marrying. “Our current tax code is anti-family and anti-marriage,” said Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council. “It’s time that Congress recognized that a nation is only as strong as the families that compose it.”
Opponents of the measure say the money could be better spent elsewhere, on struggling programs such as Medicare and Social Security. They claim the disparity is appropriate since the cost of living is less for married couples than it is for individuals because married couples share the cost of rent and utilities. These concerns are valid on the surface, but critics need to realize the cost of the plan is insignificant compared to the benefits it will offer low- and middle-income families.
President Clinton vetoed a similar bill in 1995, and has vowed to veto any other plans to eliminate the marriage penalty. Clinton should realize he can still save social security and give low- to middle-income families a much-needed boost in income