Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 11, 2011

Would a President Bachmann Be Best Positioned to Lead Tax Reform Effort?

Tax Analysts Amy S. Elliott, Tax Background Key to Bachmann's Presidential Pitch, 132 Tax Notes 114 (July 11, 2011):

It's a notion with a certain logic: Who would be better to spearhead top-to-bottom tax reform than a former tax attorney?

If enough voters buy that argument, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a presidential candidate and a former IRS attorney, could stand to benefit. She hopes her plan to turn the economy around and create jobs by scrapping the tax code as we know it will help her secure the GOP nomination in 2012. Bachmann, who often introduces herself as a tax attorney, worked for five years as an IRS attorney in St. Paul, Minn., after receiving an LLM in taxation from the College of William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va. The school has since discontinued its tax LLM program.

In a 2006 speech at a church in Brooklyn Park, Minn., Bachmann credited her husband and her faith for leading her to tax law:

My husband said, 'Now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.' Tax law? I hate taxes. Why should I go and do something like that? But the Lord said: 'Be submissive to your husband,' and so we moved to Virginia Beach, Va. . . . and I pursued this course of study. Never had a tax course in my background. Never had a desire for it. But I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband. ...

Bachmann worked in tax law from 1988 through 1993 as a tax attorney with the IRS. Although details of that time are hard to obtain, Bachmann has said that she worked on hundreds of civil and criminal tax cases. ...  In 1993 Bachmann left her position at the IRS and focused full time on raising her family. She became involved in politics in the late 1990s, running for a position on her local school board, then won a seat in Minnesota's Senate in 2000, and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. ...

Bachmann's experiences at the IRS seem to have fueled her interest in lowering taxes and streamlining the code. Her campaign website says her work as an IRS attorney "solidified her strong support for efforts to simplify the Tax Code and reduce tax burdens on family and small business budgets." On her congressional website, Bachmann says that while working at the IRS, she "saw firsthand that our nation's tax laws are hard to understand and undermine the country's prosperity by imposing needlessly harsh penalties on work, savings, and investments."

Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Bachmann's background as a tax attorney "may give her greater credibility when she says the system should be scrapped and we should start over."

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Update: Wall Street Journal, Bachmann's Tax Attorney Job Was With IRS

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I have a daily early morning routine -- like many TaxProfBlog readers, I imagine -- which includes starting with a-word-a-day, this blog, and a couple of others. So I was intrigued to read two items that seem to have a connection.

One is the quote above, about what induced Ms. Bachmann to become a tax lawyer. The second is the following from a-word-a-day: A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. -Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (b. 1920)

Posted by: eli bortman | Jul 12, 2011 4:08:11 AM

I've held the same job in a different city. I did not know Ms. Bachmann.

During this part of my career, did I, like Ms. Bachmann, see "firsthand that our nation's tax laws are hard to understand and undermine the country's prosperity by imposing needlessly harsh penalties on work, savings, and investments"? Sometimes, yes, I felt that way. I also became somewhat jaded with the procrastinators and persons who were simply trying to pay less than their fair share.

As a district counsel attorney, I was afforded the ability to resolve almost all of my cases through negotiated settlements. Ms. Bachmann indicates that she handled hundreds of cases, but I could only find 1 reported decision, which means that she would have resolved almost all of her cases through settlements as well.

In determining settlement amounts, I tried to take into account the personal circumstances of the taxpayers and their attempts to comply with the IRS rules and the occasionally overly harsh nature of the tax penalties. I wonder if Ms. Bachmann did the same? Before I make a judgment call on her experience, I would want to hear from some of the people that sat across the table from her. Was she fair? Did she timely respond to their concerns? I'm sure it will just be a matter of time before one or more taxpayers voluntarily come forward to discuss their dealings with Ms. Bachmann.

Posted by: Marcus A. | Jul 11, 2011 1:44:27 PM

Ding, ding, ding . . . we have a winner. Bonus points for using the words "extremist" and "idealogue," coupled with the phrase, "Does anyone really listen to what she says?"

Posted by: Lt. Dangle | Jul 11, 2011 1:41:24 PM

It is really amazing how a person like Ms Bachmann with her extremist views is being mainstreamed by the media and now some of the tax policy establishment. Does anyone really listen to what she says? And I do not just mean the sound bites and orchestrated TV appearences. What we need is sound, pragmatic policy and an ability to work together. Ideologues, anti-tax extremists and rabble rousers are not going to get the job done. If people really care about the deficit, and it is not just a Fox News political ploy, then they need to look at raising taxes and cutting spending. Destroying the social safenet in the middle of a recession when it is needed most and using the savings to cut the top tax rate for the wealthist Americans is not sound policy.

Posted by: George W | Jul 11, 2011 10:12:29 AM

I'm guessing that the mentioning of Michele Bachmann will start a firestorm on the comment boards. Hopefully the comments will at least be on point with the content of the article.

Posted by: Lt. Dangle | Jul 11, 2011 9:03:55 AM