On Friday President and Mrs. Obama released their most recent tax return
for the entire world to see. They continued a longstanding tradition
of sitting presidents releasing their returns, even though no law
requires that they do so. The tradition began under the late President
Richard Nixon. ...
Itemized deductions often come with a hefty price tag. The Joint
Committee on Taxation has estimated that for 2013 the amount of revenue
lost because of the three deductions the Obamas took (which happen to be
among the most popular deductions taken) will be: $90 billion for
mortgage interest, $47 billion for charitable contributions, and $46
billion for state and local income taxes. ... One part of the minority that benefits from itemized
deductions is members of Congress.
Although Presidents have voluntarily released their tax returns for the
last several decades, nothing could be further from the truth when it
comes to members of Congress. McClatchy newspapers reported last July
that of the 535 members asked to release their most recent tax returns,
just 17 did. ... I
suspect that if we looked at the tax returns of eavery member of
Congress we would see something close to a 100% itemization rate.
Compare that to only a third of the American public, and the numbers
would suggest that repeal is the best way forward.
Given that I do not expect members of Congress to change their ways,
one way to move closer to reform would be for the IRS to issue a new kind of report, which I call the “535 Report.” It
would provide in summary fashion the information from the tax returns
of all members of Congress. The 535 Report would be similar in concept
to what the IRS currently produces for the tax returns of the 400
No law is needed, because no privacy rights would be violated. All
the IRS would have to do would be to crunch the numbers. Then we would
know what percent of Congress itemized deductions and what the most
popular deductions were. We could then compare the information with what
the IRS already produces about the American taxpaying public in
general, and hopefully encourage voters to demand change.
David Cay Johnston reported in The New York Times in June 2003 that the 400 report was begun in response to a professor asking for it. Let’s see if lightening can strike twice.