The sponsor of legislation that would ensure tax equity for same-sex couples receiving employer-provided health benefits envisions upcoming tax reform legislation as a potential vehicle for passage.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), the sponsor of the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that he sees an opportunity to move his legislation forward when Congress takes up planned legislation for tax reform.
“It will be easy to put it in some tax bill along the way,” McDermott said. “It won’t be a standalone bill.”
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, has said he wants to address tax reform during this Congress and has held hearings on the issue, although the time for when the panel will take up the larger bill is still unknown.
A McDermott staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his boss could amend the larger tax reform legislation with the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act when it comes before the committee, but said it “depends on the process the Republicans take.”
McDermott’s legislation rectifies an inequity faced by LGBT couples under current law, which exempts employer-provided health coverage for opposite-sex spouses from an employee’s gross income, but makes domestic partner benefits and coverage for same-sex spouses subject to taxation.
Consequently, employees seeking to cover their same-sex partners or spouses pay more income and payroll tax than a straight employee with an opposite-sex spouse.
This inequity also burdens employers who want to extend their health benefits to the partners of their gay employees. Companies that offer such benefits have the administrative burden of calculating taxes separately and have to pay additional payroll taxes.
McDermott said he introduced the legislation, which has been languishing in Congress since 2001, as a “matter of basic fairness” for same-sex couples who are receiving employer-provided health benefits.
“If there is a couple who are in some kind of union, recognized in one way or another, they have to pay taxes on it,” McDermott said. “That’s not fair. Why should a gay couple, or any kind of couples that are living together, using one health insurance plan have to pay taxes whereas if you’re married and not a same-sex couple, you don’t have to pay taxes.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the legislation will eliminate an additional barrier that same-sex couples face in securing health insurance coverage.
“This legislation would remove that added tax burden, which can be as much as $2,200 per year, as well as the penalty imposed on fair-minded employers who provide equal benefits to their LGBT employees,” Solmonese said.
In the last Congress, the legislation was included as a provision in a House version of health care reform legislation. However, the language never made it as part of the final bill because the Senate version of health care reform was the bill that made its way to President Obama’s desk.
Despite the failure last week, McDermott said the prospects of passing tax reform legislation this Congress are even greater than last year — even with Republicans in control of the House — because of the plan for Congress to address tax reform legislation by the end of next year.
“We’ve got some Republican sponsors this time,” McDermott said. “As a matter of fact, there are a lot more Republicans who have heard from people in their district who are saying, ‘Just change the tax code and make it easier for us.'”
As of this week, McDermott’s legislation has three co-sponsors: Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) , Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.). In the Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is set to introduce companion legislation either this week or the next. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be an original co-sponsor.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, praised the Republican co-sponsors for joining on in early support of the legislation.
“We need common sense, pro-growth policies to give businesses and entrepreneurs renewed confidence in our economy and to remove Washington as the roadblock to job creation,” Cooper said. “Under current policy, the federal tax code is punishing the business community for providing their gay and lesbian employees with benefits. Congress can help private sector growth by eliminating the punitive domestic partner tax.”
An estimated 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of the employees. On May 31, 77 major American businesses — including Alaska Airlines, Microsoft and Boeing — sent a letter to McDermott in support of the legislation.
“Companies like ours in increasing numbers have made the business decision to provide health benefits to such beneficiaries, such as the domestic partners, adult children, certain grandchildren, etc. of our employees,” the letter states. “This coverage and coverage of non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiaries helps corporations attract and retain qualified employees and provides employees with health security on an equitable basis.”
The legislation falls under the jurisdiction of the Republican-controlled House Ways & Means Committee, which most observers expect to be unfriendly to pro-LGBT legislation. Camp’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.
However, one of the signers of the legislation is the Dow Chemical Co., which is headquartered in Midland, Mich., and in Camp’s district. Supporters of the legislation are hoping Dow’s endorsement will prompt Camp to support it.
McDermott said he hasn’t had discussions with Camp about his bill yet, but plans to do so when the congressional recess ends at the start of next week.
The administration has also yet to voice support one way or the other for the legislation. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, told the Blade the administration hasn’t yet reviewed the measure.
“While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, the president generally supports efforts to give parity and equal protection to same-sex couples,” Inouye said.
McDermott said he doesn’t see any interim action that President Obama could take to address the situation and said passing legislation is the only to end the tax inequity faced by LGBT couples.
“I think it’s going to require a law change,” McDermott said. “If you keep after something that’s right, then ultimately the stars line up and it passes. That’s what’s going to happen here.”