Arnold Schwarzenegger (aka the Terminator) was often known to say “I’ll be back.” I wish that I could say that and, at the same time, take on his ‘nom du film’ and terminate one section of our federal laws. I can’t, so I will try to bring about that result the only way I know how, by writing.
He’s back; I’m back; here we go again. Born in 1951, my given name, Douglas, was familiar to Americans of that time. And just as General MacArthur promised the Filipinos, I promised my readers last November that, “I shall return.” It has been almost eight months, but now that my book, The F-Word, is finally in print, I return once again to the leisurely task of writing this blog. I begin by saying what it was, what it is, what it shall be.
It’s been a mess. It is a mess. And, if we do not do something soon, it will get even messier. What, you ask, is the “IT” to which I refer? None other than U.S. Code: Title 26 – Internal Revenue Code.
Much has happened with respect to our tax code since my last post. The Supreme Court has ruled on certain provisions. Congress has continued to tinker with certain provisions. And politicians have resumed their unending promises of soon-to-be-enacted, meaningful tax reform.
As our nation prepares for the upcoming presidential campaign, Americans of every stripe will yet again be beleaguered and besieged with messages promising tax reform. Senator Rand Paul has proposed the “Fair and Flat Tax Plan.” Senators Rubio and Lee have offered the “Economic Growth and Family Fairness Tax Plan.”
Proposals notwithstanding, it is premature to break out in a chorus of High Hopes, singing “Oops there goes another problem kerplop.” Be warned, as experience cautions against expecting too much. Frankly, our elected leaders have historically not done very well enacting simple, straightforward, and fair tax laws. Despite decades of empty promises, pointless revisions, and calls for reform, the Internal Revenue Code remains complex, confusing, and unfair.
Nonetheless, I maintain a naive hope that these plans and these promises will not prove to be just more political platitudes. Passage of yet another tax reform bill, however well intended, that merely tinkers with tax brackets, toys with tax credits, and does nothing to adequately address the inequities caused by the growing complexity of the tax code will again result in total failure. Placing yet more Band-Aids on the snafu legislation known as the Internal Revenue Code has not worked previously and will not work now. Continued attempts to do so burden our combined resources and try our collective patience.
Frequent visitors to my blog know that I am extremely critical of our existing tax code. I conveyed that sentiment, clearly and strongly, in a letter, excerpted below, that I sent to Senator Rand Paul (similar letters have been sent to other Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen). It’s impossible to misinterpret my intent.
I understand the dilemma elected leaders face in this undertaking. This was clearly expressed by the Taxpayer Advocate in her 2001 report to Congress. She wrote, “I realize that many…believe that there is no…political reward for achieving tax simplification, or, more importantly, tax rationalization.”
Nonetheless, I beseech you to set aside dreams of “political reward” and do the job you have been elected to do and the job of the office for which you are now seeking election. Your current proposal is encouraging but I ask that you do more, that you develop a complete, coherent tax reform plan. Should you be successful in your bid for the office of President, you would wield extraordinary influence in this important effort.
Political and economic difficulties notwithstanding, addressing this issue is critical. I echo the closing sentiment she expressed in that same report. She asserted that, “…this nation can ill afford to ignore the increasing burden…and irrationality of our tax system.”
Let me be clear on this point. I wrote The F-Word in an effort to rekindle a tax revolution. This nation started with one—it’s time for another.
What makes this problem worse, and Congressional inaction even more frustrating, is that I am not alone in my criticism of our tax code and in my demand for meaningful reform. Nearly everyone complains about the tax code: soldier and sailor, politician and citizen, farmer and store clerk. The Taxpayer Advocate, has reported to Congress,
“In many instances the problems we identify grew up over time and bring about consequences that no one would deliberately design. These problems are ‘errors’ in the Internal Revenue Code that beg to be corrected.”
In 2005, President Bush appointed the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. Just as committees appointed before and since, this committee had nothing positive to say about our tax code. In the cover letter to its final report, the committee warned,
“The effort to reform the tax code is noble in its purpose, but it requires political willpower.”
Today, America suffers a dearth of genuine political leadership. It is safe to say that America’s elected leaders will not act without “polling numbers.” Many of our politicians prefer to serve as thermometers rather than thermostats. Republican and Democrat alike, they must be convinced that a majority of Americans believe tax reform is necessary. We must convince Congress and our next President that we will accept nothing less than complete, coherent tax reform.
Generally, when I bring up the subject of taxes, my listeners’ eyes roll back as they try to stifle a yawn. That reaction concerns me. With respect to our tax code, what we do not know can hurt us. As President Lincoln so eloquently assured us
“Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”
I encourage every American to learn the facts about our tax code. Stay tuned every Tuesday and Thursday for more tales of the Internal Revenue Code and tax reform.
As a young boy, my dad and I often watched the evening news, anchored by the likes of David Brinkley, Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite. To paraphrase Mr. Cronkite, “And that's the way it is on July 2, 2015. This is Doug Spiker, at TaxSnafu.com, good day."