Monday, April 18, 2005

An idea to jump-start real tax reform

Someone once joked that if you want Congress to fix Social Security, eliminate their pension program. You'll suddenly see them spring into action and create the most perfectly solvent and efficient retirement program ever.

My idea today: we'll fix the tax code by requiring Congress and the President to do their income tax returns themselves. I would presume they have personal accountants, or they at least go to a tax service like H&R Block. After all, they find the fees well worth avoiding the hassle of doing their own taxes. Quite a few Americans can't afford that, or we do it ourselves because our time is worth less than the money.

However, under my plan, Congress will convene every April 15th to do their own taxes in public view, and the President will join them. Experiencing the tax code firsthand, they'll finally see the behemoth they've created. No computers, no cheatsheats, no fancy calculators, only their W2s, receipts and any necessary statements. They'll be supplied a basic calculator like this TI and some blank paper. They'll have to itemize and claim each deduction themselves, and sift through page after page of instructions. Can they take a Hope credit for the third year for the same child? Can they deduct that particular expense? Then they'll have to attach all the innumerable paperwork themselves, and hope it's all there so they don't get flagged for an audit. And millions of eyes will be watching C-SPAN out of pure schadenfreude, perhaps hoping to catch some Congressman or Senator cheating.

Talking to each other for help, however, will be permitted and even encouraged. I personally would love to see one tax-savvy senator blow up after being bombarded all day with, "How do you claim this deduction?" How about, "Wait a minute, Congressman, you co-sponsored that bill last year. Now does it or doesn't it permit deductions for this?" I would love to see a huge floor argument: "It's your fault! Your stupid bill had too many qualifications and too many exceptions for the deductions!"

My prediction of the aftermath: on April 16th, even if it's a Sunday, Congress would convene and start real work on the tax code. They'd probably have an immediate vote to scrap the current code after the current year and institute a flat tax.

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