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Democrats' $3.5T spending bill creates 'harmful penalties for marriage,' Republicans argue

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Republican senators warned this week that the U.S. House of Representatives' $3.5 trillion budget bill championed by congressional Democrats creates "harmful penalties for marriage" that will make families more dependent on the federal government.

In a Thursday letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, 35 Republican senators, led by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, expressed their concerns about the package.

"We were disappointed to learn that in some instances the House of Representatives' reconciliation bill creates harmful penalties for marriage," they wrote. "Discouraging marriage is not in our country's best interest and sends the wrong message to our families."

In August, the House passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that expands social safety net programs, including childcare, free community college, paid leave and programs that combat climate change. Meanwhile, the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. 

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delayed voting on the Senate's $1.2 trillion even though moderates sought a vote. President Joe Biden signed a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown and give Congress nine more weeks to negotiate 2022 appropriations bills. 

The Republican senators defined a marriage penalty as "when a household's overall tax bill increases due to a couple marrying and filing taxes jointly." They also mentioned that federal programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Section 8 housing reduce or eliminate benefits when a couple gets married. 

"Federal policy should be designed to foster strong marriages, which are the foundation of strong families and strong communities," the letter added. "Unfortunately, despite its original rollout as part of the 'American Families Plan,' the current draft of the reconciliation bill takes an existing marriage penalty in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and makes it significantly worse."

The senators provided an example of how the reconciliation bill penalizes married couples.

"For example, a couple in 2019 with two children where one parent earns $12,000 and the other $30,000 could pay $1,578 more in taxes — or nearly 4% of their yearly earnings," the senators argued. 

"The reconciliation bill could make the same family significantly worse off. It could nearly double the marriage penalty, costing the same parents $2,713 if they choose to marry." 

The lawmakers concluded that because "marriage is a vital social good," it is "misguided and unfair for the government to build bigger barriers for couples to marry." 

The letter comes as the marriage rate in the United States has hit a new low. According to the Institute for Family Studies, 33 out of every 1,000 unmarried adults in 2019 got married. By contrast, that figure stood at 35 out of 1,000 in 2010 and a much higher 86 per 1,000 in 1970.

Republicans have consistently argued that federal programs have had an impact on the marriage rate. Last year, Republicans on the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee published a report titled "The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home," which attributes the decline in marriages to the increased availability and use of federal welfare programs.

"Public 'anti-poverty' programs often exacerbated the problem of family instability by making single parenthood a more viable option and by discouraging marriage among those receiving benefits," the report stated. "A safety net marginally reduces the costs of single parenthood, nonmarital childbearing, and divorce. It also can create a significant tax on marriage because the addition of a spouse with income typically reduces safety net benefits, and if he has only modest earnings or unsteady employment, the trade-off may not be worthwhile." 

The report argued that through the safety net, "a single mother can achieve about two-thirds of the standard of living she could get from marrying a sole breadwinner at that compensation level."

"The safety net would put her about one-third higher, with no additional income, than the 10th percentile of male compensation," the report reads. 

Additionally, the report explained that "children raised by married parents do better on an array of outcomes." Specifically, they have "stronger relationships with their parents, particularly with their fathers," are "much less likely to experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse" or "engage in delinquent behavior," have "better health … and exhibit less aggression."

Increased educational attainment and higher wages as adults, and a lower likelihood of living in poverty were also cited as benefits enjoyed by children of married couples.

The report provided empirical evidence attempting to demonstrate that the expansion of the social safety net in the 1960s led to a drop in the number of married people and the number of children born to unwed parents. Data found that the share of married American women dropped from 71% in 1962 to 42% in 2019. The percentage of children born to unmarried mothers rose from 5% in 1960 to 40% in 2019.

While the share of American children living in two-parent households has declined dramatically since the 1960s, one recent study from the Institute for Family Studies showed that the phenomenon of increased illegitimacy may have begun to reverse itself. The study found that in 2020, 70.4% of children under 18 lived with both parents, a slight increase from 69.1% in 2000 and 69.4% in 2010. At the same time, the percentage of American children residing in two-parent households remains far below the 87.7% recorded in 1960.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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