WASHINGTON -- A Republican election-year tax cut for millions of married couples won final Senate approval Friday, sending the bill to the White House, where it faces a threatened veto by President Clinton.
Prior to the 60-34 vote, GOP sponsors sought to portray their confrontation over the "marriage penalty" bill with Clinton as a choice between more government spending and a return of growing tax overpayments to taxpayers.
"The issue is whether he will or won't grant America's families the tax relief they deserve," said Sen. William Roth, R-Del., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "Let's divorce the marriage penalty from the tax code once and for all."
Seven Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting for the bill, which passed the House on Thursday. Neither margin was sufficient to override a veto, meaning the issue will likely be a centerpiece of this year's campaign debate over how to use the projected budget surplus.
"Once again, our Republican friends are using an attractive label like the marriage penalty as a cover for unjustified tax breaks for the wealthy, and at the expense of urgently needed priorities like prescription drug coverage for our senior citizens," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
The measure would cut taxes for about virtually all married couples, beginning this year, at a cost of $292 billion over 10 years -- still pennies on the dollar of a budget surplus projected at $2.17 trillion over the next decade.
Republicans said the bill was a remedy to a tax law disparity that forces about 25 million two-income married couples, mainly those with two roughly equal incomes, to pay more taxes than if they were single.
Clinton has proposed more limited marriage penalty relief but offered to sign an earlier version of the GOP bill if Congress also passed an acceptable prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. But Republicans have refused that deal.
The marriage legislation was part of last year's $792 billion tax cut that Clinton vetoed. Republicans are pushing through Congress separate pieces of the larger bill in an effort to draw clearer, election-year contrasts with Democrats on specific tax issues.
Republicans are rushing to get the marriage penalty bill to the White House so that Clinton must decide whether to sign or veto it before the end of the Republican National Convention that takes place July 31-Aug. 3 in Philadelphia.
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