In his most recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama laid out a litany of tax proposals, including a $500 tax credit to households where there are two earners.

According to a White House fact sheet on the plan, the credit would offset the additional costs by the country’s 24 million couples where both spouses work. However, there are much better approaches to provide tax relief for working couples that are not as discriminatory against single parents and couples where one parent stays at home. There is also a better approach for targeting that relief than a broad tax credit.

According a CNN report on the double-earner tax credit proposal, the additional costs the White House hopes to offset include:

[The] costs of child care and commuting that lead some spouses — usually women — to determine it makes more financial sense to stop working.

This proposal is essentially a handout to a key part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. It’s designed to keep women in the workforce and to discourage stay-at-home moms (or dads). This puts into practice President Obama’s stated policy preference that women should be nudged to go into the workforce, and to ratchet down the number of women who choose to put their careers on hold in order to become full-time parents.

But it should not be the purpose of the tax code to encourage specific family preferences, much less to determine how American couples should raise their children. Instead, the primary role of taxation is to generate income for the state.

As a practical matter, this tax credit is a poor way to address the higher costs of child care and commuting that double-earning couples face. It also fails to take into account that single parents also face these higher child-care costs and that all workers face commuting costs as well. Is it sufficient to ask such families to utilize existing tax credits and find other ways to reduce commuting costs? For reasons of both fairness and the sake of a simpler tax code, I think the answer is yes.

There already is a child-care tax credit on the books. The current tax credit ranges from 20 percent of child care expenditures for those making more than $43,000 to 35 percent of child care expenditures for lower-income Americans. The credit maxes out at $1,050 for one child and $2,100 for two or more children. President Obama has also proposed raising the maximum credit to $3,000. If the president wants to help families defray the cost of child care, this seems a better approach than the double-earner tax credit. From a fairness factor, it would help all families, not just two-parent working households. It’s also a better way to target tax relief to the people who need it, rather than extending a broad tax credit to childless double-earner couples.

As for reducing the costs of commuting, we already have existing tax credits in place that can help with that. There are tax credits to subsidize everything from parking to even riding your bicycle to work. Again, the costs of commuting are borne by most working Americans, regardless of marital status. It would be a simpler and fairer proposal to expand those already-existing credits than to create a new credit that can be claimed even if one or both earners telecommute or work mostly from home.

There is another idea that would help the overwhelming majority of commuters, which is to reduce the federal gas tax. Alas, Obama appears to be leaving the door open to do the precise opposite. In recent days, administration officials have hinted at support for an increase in the federal gas tax.

Once you examine the costs the proposed double-earner tax credit is designed to mitigate, the argument for it just simply doesn’t make sense. There are better and fairer ways to address the costs borne by commuters and parents. President Obama should stop trying to use the tax code to wage a culture war and consider alternative approaches to help all American workers.

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