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Why Mitt Romney, GOP colleagues say Democrats’ ‘human infrastructure’ bill would deter marriage

Utah Republican says federal policies should be designed to encourage marriage

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, returns to his office after a vote at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, returns to his office after a vote at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Romney wants Democrats to remove “harmful” penalties for marriage from their so-called human infrastructure bill that he says would discourage people from tying the knot.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Sen. Mitt Romney wants Democrats to remove “harmful” penalties for marriage from their so-called human infrastructure bill that he says would discourage people from tying the knot.

The Utah Republican along with 32 of his GOP Senate colleagues sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Finance Committee chairman, outlining their arguments against the provisions.

“Discouraging marriage is not in our country’s best interest and sends the wrong message to our families,” according to the letter. “We believe that marriage is a vital social good. It is misguided and unfair for the government to build bigger barriers for couples to marry.”

Earlier this year, Romney proposed sending monthly government checks to families for children as a way to encourage marriage and raise the birth rate in the United States, both of which he says are going in the wrong direction.

Federal policy should be designed to foster strong marriages, which are the foundation of strong families and strong communities, the GOP senators wrote in the letter.

“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 and makes it significantly worse. This is not the only marriage penalty created or worsened by the partisan bill,” according to the letter.

The GOP senators contend that the tax credit is an important policy tool to incentivize work, but it is also embedded with small, but damaging, marriage penalties.

For example, they said, 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 if they are married — or nearly 4% of their yearly earnings.

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, according to the senators.

Current marriage penalties occur when a household’s overall tax bill increases due to a couple marrying and filing taxes jointly.

A number of other federal programs, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Section 8 housing assistance also create marriage penalties by eliminating or reducing benefits for couples who marry.

Congress considers those policies individually, disregarding the significant financial hurdles that the combined effect can create for low-income couples to marry, the senators wrote.

Senate Budget Committee Democrats and the White House agreed to a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package earlier this summer. It includes government assistance for child care, paid leave, free community college, and programs to combat climate change and expand health insurance access. Democrats plan to pay for it with tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The bill can only pass the Senate through reconciliation, a process that allows legislation to pass with a simple majority rather than the usually required 60 votes.