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Override of veto of tax relief for couples fails

The House Wednesday failed to override President Clinton's veto of legislation to cut taxes for married couples, sounding the death knell for Republican efforts to muscle broad-based tax relief into law this year.

The 270-158 vote was 16 fewer than the two-thirds majority needed to negate the veto of the so-called "marriage penalty" bill. The action came less than a week after the House failed to override Clinton's veto of a bill repealing the estate tax.

A handful of smaller tax cuts remain before Congress and stand a good chance of making it into law. Among them is a popular bill that would significantly raise _ from $2,000 to $5,000 a year _ the contribution limit for individual retirement accounts and increase the amount workers may put into 401(k) retirement savings plans.

But the marriage penalty and the estate tax bills were the biggest, broadest tax cuts on this year's agenda _ signature initiatives by the Republican-controlled Congress. The final collapse of hopes that these measures would become law has fueled a shift in GOP strategy. Heading into year-end budget talks with Clinton, Republicans now say that they will push for reductions in the national debt.

At a White House meeting with Clinton on Tuesday, Republicans proposed to earmark 90 percent of next year's anticipated federal budget surplus _ about $240-billion out of almost $270-billion _ to reducing the debt. Democrats derided the idea as a one-year gimmick rather than a long-term commitment.

The tax-cut debate still rages on the campaign trail _ to mixed effect. While tax cutting in general has not topped the list of voter concerns, individual tax cuts such as the one for married couples and repeal of the estate tax have been popular enough that scores of Democrats voted for them.

GOP leaders hope to use this session's tax-cut votes to their advantage against selected Democrats. For example, the National Republican Congressional Committee plans to spotlight Rep. Joseph Hoeffel's opposition to both the estate tax and marriage-penalty bills. The one-term Pennsylvania Democrat is considered politically vulnerable in his swing district.

Eliminating the marriage penalty _ the quirk in the tax code that causes many couples, mostly in families with two roughly equal incomes, to pay higher income taxes than if both partners had filed as individuals _ has been a key Republican goal. To accomplish that, their legislation would have given all couples a tax break, including those who receive a marriage bonus _ paying less in taxes than if they filed as single taxpayers. This generally occurs when one partner is the main earner.

In the final roll call on the bill, 49 Democrats joined 220 Republicans and one independent in voting to override Clinton's veto.

Here's how the Florida delegation voted:

Republicans _ Bilirakis, Y; Canady, Y; Diaz-Balart, Y; Foley, Y; Fowler, Y; Goss, Y; McCollum, Y; Mica, Y; Miller, Y; Ros-Lehtinen, Y; Scarborough, Y; Shaw, Y; Stearns, Y; Weldon, Y; Young, Y.

Democrats _ Boyd, N; Brown, N; Davis, N; Deutsch, Y; Hastings, N; Meek, N; Thurman, N; Wexler, N.