Tax Reform: Is this the Year?

Lawmakers have, for years now, talked about simplifying the tax code — an enormous project that nobody seems to be committed to tackling.  It would be a difficult task even if lawmakers could agree on the changes, but partisan differences further complicate the task.  Maybe it takes some kind of tragic event to kick them into gear and make it a priority.  Maybe the recent IRS scandal is just the thing.

Two lawmakers hope that’s the case.  David Camp, a Michigan Republican, and Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, believe that the IRS scandal puts the complexity of the tax code on center stage once again.  Here’s how:

The complexity of the law didn’t require the IRS to target people for their political beliefs [but] I think giving the IRS less discretion is going to be important, and that’s what a simplified code would do.

~ David Camp, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee

Well, first I’m not sure a simplified code would really give the IRS less discretion.  And second, I’m not sure less discretion is always best.  I suppose if we take enough out of the tax code to effectively reduce and minimize the role of the IRS, then that could result in less discretion.  But if a simplification results in less detail where detail is needed, then it may have the opposite effect.  Generally speaking, I think the wordier the law, the less opportunity for discretion.

In my experience with IRS collections and tax relief cases, I would prefer more discretion as long as it is coupled with better training and more highly qualified personnel.  It is that inability to think outside the box and make common sense decisions that gives the IRS a bad name and creates so much frustration on the part of taxpayers and their representatives.



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