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When it comes to taxes, Americans prefer families

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WHEN and if America's two highest-rated TV singles - "Bachelorette" Trista Rehn and "Joe Millionaire" star Evan Marriott - do pick a mate and get married this year, they may or may not find everlasting marital bliss.

But at least they're likely to get a bigger tax cut, thanks to President Bush. And if they happen to have offspring, they'll get even more trimmed off their tax bill.

That's because one of the big tenets of Mr. Bush's $674-billion plan is serious tax relief for married couples, especially those with kids. It's part of a broader Republican-led effort in recent years to bolster the traditional family.

Yet relief for marrieds comes at a price: a growing so-called "bachelor's tax" on singles. And with burgeoning numbers of single Americans - unmarried couples, solo singles, and others - there's new potential for a bachelor-tax backlash.

This element of the Bush tax plan has gotten relatively little public attention. But it reflects a decades-old tension over the shape of the stereotypical American family, in which the tax code is a prime cultural-political battleground. Tax policy is, to some extent, also a window into the nation's attitudes toward the institution of marriage.

"If you're married, you tend to get more than if you're single" under the Bush plan, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst at tax publisher CCH in Riverwoods, Ill. "If you have children, you save more than if you don't."

It's an echo of 1994's Newt Gingrich-led Contract With America, he says, and emanates from the idea that "we should treat two people living together as a married unit differently from when they were living apart."


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