The U.S. tax code places a “significant, even unconscionable burden” on taxpayers and needs to be completely overhauled. That is the view of Nina E. Olson, national taxpayer advocate with the Internal Revenue Service, as she explained to Congress on January 9. The code is so complicated, that individuals and business have to spend more than 6 billion hours a year in compliance. By Olson’s calculation that equals 3 million people working full time all year, equal to one of the largest industries in the nation.
Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House and Ways and Means Committee, responded “This report confirms that the code is 10 times the size of the Bible with none of the good news. Our broken tax code has become a nightmare of loopholes and special interest provisions that create added complexities and costs for hardworking taxpayers and small businesses.”
To streamline a tax code that keeps getting bigger, Olson advocated repeal of the alternate minimum tax and reduction of income exclusions, deductions and credits. That done, Congress could supposedly lower individual rates by 44 percent and bring in the same amount of review.
Washington insiders are doubtless right that Congress, despite predictable protests, will not reform the code along these lines. Congress just raised tax rates in a quest to avoid the fiscal cliff. Congress likes doling out tax breaks and every group thinks their own loopholes are justified.
Though billed as an advocate for taxpayers Nina Olson had other issues on her mind. In the true punch line of her speech she warned Congress not to underfund the IRS: “The plain truth is that the IRS’s mission trumps all other agencies’ missions, because without an effective revenue collector, you can’t fund those agencies.”
Nina Olson knows that members of Congress represent those federal agencies as much as they represent the people in their districts. That’s why Congress will continue to tolerate a “significant, even unconscionable burden” on hardworking taxpayers. That’s why Congress is more likely to make the burden even more onerous rather than consider anything as sensible, streamlined and fair as a flat tax.