WASHINGTON — President Clinton pledged Wednesday to veto a Republican tax cut for married couples, fueling an election year showdown over projected surpluses in the federal budget.
Clinton accused Republicans of playing political games with a bill to eliminate the so-called "marriage penalty" in the tax code that requires dual-income couples filing jointly to pay more than they would if they filed singly.
Last week, Congress approved a measure that would provide $90 billion in tax relief to married couples over the next five years.
Criticizing the plan as too costly and tilted to the wealthy, Clinton demanded that Republican leaders send the bill, and any other tax cut proposals, to the White House immediately.
Congress adjourns for an August recess at the end of the week.
Clinton called the bill and other Republican tax-cut proposals "too big, too reckless, too irresponsible" and suggested that the money would be better spent on prescription-drug benefits for Medicare patients and investments in education and the environment.
"If the congressional Republicans truly think these tax cuts are good policy, instead of just good politics, they should put them together and send them down to me right now." he said. "Then the American people can add up the costs and draw their own conclusions."
Republican leaders said Clinton would get the marriage tax bill within the next two days, in time to veto it by the beginning of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia on July 31.
They planned to hold onto another already-approved measure, a bill to repeal the federal estate tax over the next decade, until Congress returns at the end of the summer.
Facing an all-but-guaranteed presidential veto, GOP leaders warned that a quick rejection will only give them more time to drum up support to override the veto and vote the bill into law.
"I'm sure that between now and when we come back in September many of those who voted against this bill will be convinced to come back and vote for a veto override," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
With government analysts estimating surpluses of more than $2 trillion in the next 10 years, the fight over the marriage tax cut foreshadows an all-out battle over projected federal budget surpluses as both parties gear up for the fall general election.
Democrats want to spend the extra cash on government programs, while Republicans argue that the savings should go toward tax relief.
"The president has really run out of excuses. He can't make the argument with a straight face that marriage penalty relief for couples making $35,000 each is a tax break for the rich," said Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who pushed for the bill's passage in the Senate.
"With a $2 trillion non-Social Security surplus, how can he be thinking of vetoing marriage penalty relief for hard-working American families?" Hutchison asked.