February 13, 2011
NY Times: Could Your Senator Conquer the 1040?Sunday New York Times, Could Your Senator Conquer the 1040?, by John Schwartz:
Who is America’s funniest politician? It sounds like a question with a built-in oxymoron, like “What’s the best-ever disco song?” or “Do you serve jumbo shrimp?”
Still, there’s a comer on the scene: Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota. He shows promise. When, in his speeches, he paraphrases the movie “Talladega Nights” and says, “I want to thank the Lord for my smoking-hot wife,” how could you not smile?
Lately on the lecture-and-talk-show circuit, Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican, has been trotting out an out-and-out zinger: he says members of Congress should have to do their own taxes. Hilarious, right? As he recently put it to George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on ABC, they should have to do the job with “no help of an accountant, a lawyer or a tax specialist.”
I called up Mr. Pawlenty to ask how the line goes over with the crowds. “It kills, right?” He seemed a bit taken aback. He’s as serious as a 1040, he said — members of Congress should have to fill out their own forms, “so they can experience the full brunt of the mindless, senseless burden that is our U.S. tax code that they visit on hard-working Americans.” “I don’t mean it as a joke,” he said. ...
I called Paul L. Caron, a visiting professor of law at the Pepperdine University School of Law in California, and he seemed charmed by the Pawlenty plan — though, he noted, the idea “has been around for a while.”
In fact, he suggested, why stop at taxes? “How about requiring members of Congress to go through T.S.A. lines at airports like the rest of us and get body-scanned? Getting their license plates renewed at the Department of Motor Vehicles?”
That’s bold, but I’ve never met a plan that couldn’t be made even bolder. Why not send our lawmakers to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan? It would certainly focus their thinking about the wars, and ensure that veterans aren’t slighted on health care and benefits when they return home.
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I am told, although I can't prove it, that Boris Bittker never did his own taxes.
Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 13, 2011 5:31:26 PM
Members of Congress: Congressional leaders who are assigned a security detail, including the speaker of the House, the House minority leader and the Senate majority leader, are allowed to pass through airport security checkpoints when flying commercial jets, according to the TSA. All other members of Congress are expected to stand in line and wait.
Posted by: Bob | Feb 13, 2011 5:44:52 PM
Make them do their own taxes with a 100% guaranteed full audit from an audit team selected to be particularly hostile towards them. Further guarantee that the penalties for any findings against them must be at or above the 90th percentile of severity for comparable findings.
Posted by: Jehu | Feb 13, 2011 5:45:51 PM
I remember the first time I filled out a Schedule D. (For many years I swore that as a tax attorney I would not pay money to someone else to do something I could -- should? -- be able to do myself.)
After reviewing the form and instructions for a while, I pulled out my Code and calculated the tax I owed. Of course, my sheet of calculations would not have been received kindly by the Service Center. It took me several attempts to get the Schedule D to come out with the right amount (when I got different #s on the form, I rechecked my calculations to make sure I'd done those right). All the "move line 30 to line 36" "subtract line 36 from line 37 and place it on line 38a" "move the lesser of line 38a, 38b, or 42 to line 47 and subtract it from line 46 which you calculated 17 hours ago." It wasn't the law, in this instance, it was the form.
I know the law is complex, and I know the forms have to work out for multiple complex scenarios, but that is why the Lord invented Turbo Tax. It does all your math for you. It asks you simple questions and the puts the right amounts on line 30, 36, 37, 38a, 38b, 42, 46, and 47 in minutes, and you don't even know that the numbers are being filled into forms and schedules.
In reality, the "bottom 90%" that Obama says he cares so much about are W-2 employees, 1099 independent contractors, or schedule C businesses. Ok, maybe some S corps. and LLC, but anyone who has a S corp or LLC on their return likely has seen an attorney of tax professional well in advance of the return that needed to report the S corp or LLC.
W-2s, 1099s, Sch. C's are easy. The standard deduction is taken by I forget what % of returns filed, but I think it is a super majority of individual returns file. Personal exemptions are simple. Most credits and deductions are straight forward (e.g., child tax crdit) for the bottom 90%. Most will never have to file a schedule D ever again--Amen!!! Listing your interest and dividends on Sch. A, and the mortgage interest from your underwater home on Sch. B are pretty simple. 1099 forms from banks, mutual funds, mortgage companies, etc. all are pretty explanatory and come with a road map. And if you use Turbo Tax you don't even need the roadmap.
All this "reform the Code" is smoke and mirrors for giving more breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the bottom 90% while seeming like you are doing the bottom 90 a favor and sticking it to the rich.
OK, AMT is messed up and hitting people it never was meant to hit. But that was because it was never indexed for inflation decades ago (to prevent the Hiltons of this world to pay $0 when the working man paid so much more. How could the rich pay $0 and the bottom 90 pay tax?) Simple solution. Index it for inflation, and do what it was meant to do: tax the wealthy so they pay tax like the rest of the bottom 90 (and for everyone who wants to tell me about all those people who pay no income tax, ~10% of their wages goes to FICA/employment tax (double that if self-employed) and they pay tax all around--gas to commute, sales tax on everything they but, real property tax if they own a home, personal property tax on cars, boats, etc. in various states, etc. etc. etc.).
So cry me a river if we have to raise taxes, even double them, on those who can most afford them. I remember learning about something called horizontal equity, but they never taught that to the White House, Obama, or the Congress apparently.
Posted by: tax guy | Feb 13, 2011 8:48:57 PM
Not only would it be fun to watch a senator complete a 1040, but I would like to also watch them live a month on an average social security retirement benefit, and choose a Medicare Part D plan. Maybe then we will see some real reform.
Posted by: cindy Katz | Feb 13, 2011 9:36:49 PM
Even President Roosevelt couldn't figure out to complete his own taxes, so he just sent his 1040 Form to the IRS with a check and told them to do it for him. And, it's not like you needed a computer to do a 1937 tax return. That should have been an early clue that the system was getting just a little complicated. -- Franklin Roosevelt 1937 Tax Return
Posted by: Woody | Feb 14, 2011 1:56:51 PM