House of Representatives: Where’s the love?

Erik Hoversten

Well it’s Valentine’s Day again, and if all of your flowers, candies and verse succeed in winning the favor of the object of your affection, what do you have to look forward to? Higher taxes.

These higher taxes are due to the infamous marriage tax penalty, where married couples pay more taxes than they would if they were single.

On Thursday GOP romantics in the House pushed through a $182 billion tax cut that will put an end to the marriage penalty 268 to 158. “Today the House has a chance to give 25 million couples the best Valentine’s Day gift possible: elimination from the most unfair of taxes, the marriage tax penalty,” said the bill’s sponsor Jerry Weller (R-IL), while waving a heart-shaped prop on the house floor.

I would have thought that an engagement ring or a baby would be a better Valentine than a tax cut, but what do I know about romance?

According to House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) “There’s only one marriage [the bill] would strengthen, and that’s the long-standing romance between the Republican leadership and those who are most well off in this country.” He went on to describe the bill as a “two-fisted assault on the U.S. Treasury.”

I found it difficult to get any insight from the arguing factions and I was curious how anything that sounds so heinous as a marriage penalty could have ever started. So I decided to do some digging of my own.

I turned to an October 1997 report of the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee entitled “The Marriage Penalty: A Hidden Tax on Traditional Families” for the history of the marriage penalty.

The federal income tax started in 1913 and, at that time, married couples had to file taxes separately. In some states couples were allowed to evenly split their incomes which frequently allowed them to pay lower taxes under a progressive tax code. The tax code was changed in 1948 to allow all couples to use such income splitting no matter where they lived. Under this system couples could save up to 42% compared to what they would pay if they were single.

The result of this tax system was a substantial marriage bonus. This made Valentine’s Day even worse for single people to take, as they had to cope with higher taxes in addition to emotional trauma.

This tax system was largely unfair to single people so, in 1969, the tax code was changed again. Under the new system some couples would keep the marriage bonus, while some would face a marriage penalty.

The two largest factors in determining whether a couple gets a bonus or penalty are the couple’s total income and the breakdown of the income between husband and wife. The more even the split of income, the more likely there will be a penalty, while if one spouse makes most or all of the income there will be a bonus.

In 1969, 52% of households had only one working spouse so the marriage penalty was not as large of an issue. In 1995 only 28% had only one spouse working.

I then uncovered the dirty secret. In 1996 23 million married couples paid a marriage penalty for a total of $28.8 billion, while 28 million couples got a marriage bonus for a total of $32.9 billion.

I always thought that if the marriage penalty was as horrible as it sounds it would have been done away with years ago. The idea of taxing people for having families is politically unattractive on all sides.

To discuss a marriage penalty without mentioning the marriage bonus is pure theatrics, because they are one and the same being.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said, “I know the Republicans want to have a political gimmick to have on Valentines Day, and that’s what this is about.”

For the House to consider the bill, they had to waive the budget rules since the House has not introduced its budget blueprint for 2001. The Republicans originally tried to set the vote for February 14. Many Democrats complained that the bill was forced through the House without a hearing.

According to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) “Instead of diving in a tax cut feeding frenzy, Republicans should first put together a budget which outlines their priorities and the context in which any tax cut must be placed.”

The Democrats favor reducing the national debt and backing up Social Security and Medicare. The Clinton administration has accused the GOP plan as being too big and primarily benefiting the wealthy.

Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) often votes with the GOP on fiscal measures. He said “I want to provide relief to the 57,000 married couples in my district, but I also care about the 67,000 households that depend on Social Security and the 250,000 children who deserve a future.”

The Republican party continually shows no restraint in tax cuts and demonstrates no regard for the future of America. In addition, they are so bent on winning back the presidency that they will sacrifice the issues in favor of theatrics.

The Republican response to Clinton’s weekly radio address came not from a Representative or a Senator, but from Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of presidential candidate George W. Bush.

“If he [Clinton] vetoes this sensible tax relief, he should explain to America’s families why he doesn’t trust them to keep more of what they earn,” said Jeb Bush.

Perhaps Bush should explain what he has to do with the Federal Government, if there’s an answer other than election year drama.

Erik Hoversten is a senior in math from Eagan, Minn.