"The Trophy Wife Freedom Act" - 2/00
Mon Feb 28 13:09:59 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Monday, 28 February 2000
Just call new tax proposal The Trophy Wife Freedom Act
By Froma Harrop
Memo to Congress: Beware the single taxpayer. You're really really
pushing us to the edge. The latest provocation is a bill passed in the
House that would end the ``marriage penalty'' in the tax code.
Some things in this bill make sense, and some do not. But the issue goes
beyond matters of taxation. It centers on some highly questionable
assumptions about the societal value of married Americans versus single
Allow me to backtrack. For years, conservatives (and others) have
complained bitterly about the marriage penalty. This is an oddity in the
tax code that forces many couples to pay higher taxes than they would if
they were single. These tend to be working couples in which each partner
earns roughly the same amount. The bill just passed would fix the
inequity. That is only fair.
The critics of the marriage penalty, however, conveniently neglect to
note that about 40 percent of couples filing jointly receive what could
be called a ``marriage bonus.'' These couples pay less in taxes than they
would as single people, and they tend to live in high-income households,
the sort of setup in which an executive spouse makes enough money to
allow the partner to stay at home.
The House bill not only leaves the bonus intact, but it piles onto it by
raising the income level that allows couples to remain in the 15 percent
tax bracket. As things now stand, you have to be in the top quarter of
taxpayers to get pushed into a bracket higher than 15 percent. Therefore,
this part of the law benefits the well-to-do and no one else.
Only the Republican House leadership could think up legislation that
gives two-thirds of the tax savings to couples with the best incomes -
and do it in the name of helping working people. Nice job, boys.
Asked why he was boosting the fortunes of the already fortunate, the
bill's architect, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer,
had an answer at the ready. ``We unabashedly help stay-at-home moms,''
the Texas Republican said.
I think they should be abashed and worse. Nowhere does the legislation
carry a proviso requiring that anyone stay at home with the kids or that
they even have any. It is based solely on marital, not parental, status.
Indeed, the savings in taxes can allow rich moms to give the nanny more
hours of employment, thus reducing their stay-at-home time. Archer might
have named it ``The Trophy Wife Freedom Act.''
This kind of thing gets through Congress because whenever politicians
mention the word ``marriage,'' they expect the audience to imagine a
CinemaScope picture of Mom, Dad and freckle-faced kids.
Nearly everyone knows, however, that many married people are not raising
children, and many single people do. And other single people without
children, or whose children are adults, often provide more family value
than do their married relatives.
Some examples among my acquaintances: I know a gay guy whose brother
recently died, leaving a young family. He has taken over, providing the
widow and children with both emotional and financial support.
A good friend who has never married is now paying for her nephew's
college education because the boy's father is allergic to work. She also
supports her aging mother.
My widowed sister is caring for two young children. And a good number of
spouse-less friends, who are also grandparents, pick up many bills for
younger members of their families.
The point here is not to emote over the wonderful things single people do
for their families. It is simply to note that being married is not a
condition for making the kinds of social contributions that deserve a tax
break, let alone an assurance of it.
If the goal is to help children, many ways exist in the tax code to do
that. The books already include exemptions for dependents, child tax
credits, etc. Meanwhile, people without children pay taxes that finance
schools and other programs that help younger generations. That's as it
But then our members of Congress start dreaming up tax-break schemes
designed to, in their words, ``reward marriage.'' (For people who say
they oppose social engineering through the tax code, conservatives have
gotten pretty good at it.)
Bashing single people is not brilliant politics either. About 47 percent
of all Americans over the age of 15, about 98 million people, are not
married. That's a lot of voters.
Froma Harrop is a Providence (R.I.) Journal editorial writer and
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