Marriage-Tax Cut Is Headed for Wedded Abyss

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So the priest says, "If any one knows why this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace."

And their accountant stands up...

Just a little Republican humor on the day the GOP's 10-year, $248 billion "marriage penalty" tax cut cruised through the Senate by a 60-39 margin and headed for a blissful union with a similar $180 billion version produced by the House last week. The combined bill not only gives a break to married couples hurt by the current tax code, but also gives one to married couples that aren't. Viva el matrimonio!

The final measure will have bipartisan support — especially after a united GOP majority rolled over cheaper Democratic alternatives like Pat Moynihan's 10-year, $54 billion "you choose" plan (couples could choose to file jointly or separately, whichever cost less). As popular as a tax cut like this is with voters, nobody up for election is too anxious to be for a "marriage penalty." A combined bill will be on President Clinton's desk in plenty of time for the start of the GOP convention on July 31.

But here's the real punch line: Nobody, not even the Republicans, wants this tax cut to become law — at least until after the election. That's why the GOP has long sniffed at Clinton's proposed deal — his prescription-drug benefit for their marriage tax cut — without which he'll veto the "marriage penalty" bill, with no doubt a speech about how it helps the rich (which Clinton is willing to do, as long as it also helps his legacy). Besides being another installment of the GOP's annual bid to make Bill Clinton and Al Gore look stingy, it's classic election-year politics: Everybody but the lame duck would rather have crusades than results.

In past summers (just as in past scandals), Clinton invariably wound up turning the tables on his opponents, pinning the villainy on the majority party and flipping the political bird to GOP negotiators. Gridlock was the inevitable result. But with the public behind this bill and a presidential alternative to Clinton riding to the rescue in the form of George W. Bush, the GOP thinks it's finally got the edge this time around, and will be sure to make a point of saying so in Philadelphia.

For the aforementioned married couple, and for the rest of us, the result for the rest of this year will be just the same — bubkes.