Is the Administration's tax-revision plan "pro-family"? Yes, said the Reaganites, citing its effect on one-earner, two-parent, two-child families. Just a minute, called out some of the plan's opponents, those people account for only 15 percent of all families. What about the other 85 percent? Now comes a report from the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families comparing the effects of the Reagan plan, and the Bradley-Gephardt and Kemp-Kasten plans as well, with the effects of the current system on seven different kinds of families. Interestingly enough, even though the committee is controlled by Democrats, the president's plan comes out best.
As is usual with taxes, the crucial part is in the details. The report rated the Reagan plan better than the current system for five of the seven types of families. The administration plan provides a bigger reduction for large, as distinct from childless, families of similar incomes. It taxes single-parent families at rates nearly identical to two-parent families at the $21,000 income level. It ends the tax on poverty-income families of four and, through the earned income tax credit, actually gives them money back. It taxes at identical rates one-and two-earner, above-average income families who put money into IRAs. For the old-fashioned, two- parent, one-earner, two-child family with a typical income, it reduces rates from 12.5 to 9.3 percent.
The president's plan hurts in two kinds of situations. The conversion of the child-care credit to a child-care deduction yields an increase for the two- earner $20,000 family that spends $4,800 on child care. And in the $20,000 range there is a small increase in the marriage penalty -- that is, the higher amount a two-income married couple pay as compred with two single individuals. There is, however, a justification for the marriage penalty (two can live cheaper than one), and the treatment of child care is not central to the president's plan.
So the House report makes it clear the criticism that the president's plan is biased toward traditional families -- that it is an attempt to put working women back into the kitchen -- is overstated. What the administration plan does do is give greater relief, in percentage terms, to large families and those with single parents. For this the argument can be made that these are the types of families whose taxes have been most steeply increased over the years, because deductions have not kept pace with inflation (the dependent deduction was $600 in 1948 and $1,000 in 1984).
The fact is that when you are designing a new tax system for a diverse country in which people increasingly are dividing themselves into different sorts of families and households, you are going to have to make a lot of choices about which reasonable people will disagree. The House committee report, of course, looks at only some of those choices. It doesn't consider the different effects of eliminating the deductibility of state and local taxes on different types of families in different states, for example. What it does do is make clear that the question of whose tax plan is the most "pro-family" is not as simple as any of the parties to the debate have tried to make it. The issue is too complicated for sloganeering of this kind to be particularly useful, or even perhaps germane. That is what the report suggests, and that may be its greatest contribution.