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Clinton wants deal on marriage penalty

GOP refuses to do ‘Washington horse trading’ on issues

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WASHINGTON — President Clinton renewed his offer to congressional Republicans on Saturday to sign a bill to eliminate the so-called marriage penalty tax if they would pass a plan for Medicare prescription drug coverage.

He accused Republicans of passing "reckless tax cuts" that serve special interests and threaten to derail his plan to wipe out the government's debt by 2012, but he said there was still time for a bipartisan deal.

"As yet, the Republican leaders have not yet responded to the nation's call for a real prescription drug plan," the president said in his weekly radio address. "But it's not too late to put progress over partisanship."

Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, the House Republican conference chairman, issued a statement rejecting Clinton's offer for a deal.

"These issues deserve individual solutions and attention — not Washington horse trading," Watts said.

If the deal were struck, it would insure drug costs for senior citizens and people with disabilities and also rid the tax code of an apparent anomaly for married couples.

Under the existing tax code, working couples often end up paying more in federal taxes than they would if they were single.

Medicare is the federal health care insurance program for people aged 65 and over, and for the disabled.

Broadcasting from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Clinton took a hard line against the Republican fiscal agenda a day after the Senate voted to phase out estate taxes.

The 59-39 vote, in which nine Democrats broke with the White House and voted with the majority, was short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, which Clinton said the legislation was destined to receive.

"Its costs would explode to $750 billion after 10 years," he said. "And every year fully half its benefits would go to just 3,000 families."

Clinton said the Republican-controlled Congress has failed to pass legislation to improve schools, raise the minimum wage, broaden health care coverage for children or pass a "meaningful" patients' bill of rights.

"All these actions are serving special interests, not our national interest," the president said.

Clinton added that Republicans want to spend the federal government's projected surpluses on tax cuts and the cost of partially privatizing the Social Security retirement system.

"Let me ask you something," he said. "If someone asked you to sign a contract committing you to spend every penny of your projected earnings for the next 10 years, would you do it? Unfortunately, that's what the congressional Republicans want us to do."

In the Republican radio address, Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the burgeoning federal budget surplus makes it the perfect time for Congress to fix the marriage tax glitch and enact other tax cuts.

"It's just plain wrong for the government to punish people for getting married," Toomey said. "Washington is swimming in surplus tax dollars. Let's give some of it back to working Americans by ending unfair taxes."