Republican congressmen are hoping that the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service will lead to tax reform. Many so-called strategists are advising Republicans to use the public anger to get tax reform.
Most so-called experts don’t believe that genuine tax reform is something that can be achieved in the foreseeable future. The problem with real tax reform is that it causes too much pain and it makes the politicians in charge of trying to obtain tax reform very unpopular. On top of that, the real tax reform ideas have no relationship to the so-called scandal. In essence, the Republicans want to broaden the tax base, lower tax rates, and reduce the number of brackets. Some ultra conservatives are suggesting we should “abolish the IRS.” Obviously, that’s not going to happen. There needs to be a government agency that collects taxes, like it or not. The good news is that sometimes scandals lead to effective laws.
There was an IRS scandal in the 1990’s involving IRS agents being pressured to meet quotas to collect back taxes and penalties. Some agents anonymously admitted those quotas led to aggressive collections, even to the point of collecting money that wasn’t really owed. That ultimately led to new laws, including the 1998 law that created an inspector general within the Treasury Department to oversee the IRS for abusive practices. There was, in fact, a report from that office on the targeting of conservative groups that brought about the latest scandal. In other words, the laws created because of the 1990’s scandal were the very laws that brought to light the current problem. “You could argue that we would know nothing about this if not for the law,” stated Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican.
Those laws turned out to be effective and useful, in part, because the Republicans were not so focused on putting the blame on then-President Bill Clinton. Instead, they were focused on demonstrating the dangers of letting the federal government have too much power. In turn, they came up with laws that reduced those dangers.
Like it or not, the IRS is a necessary arm of our government. The real issue is how do we balance that power so as to avoid abuses? Robert Schriebman, a tax attorney out of Los Angeles, proposed that enforcement actions such as seizures should be placed under the supervision of independent judges so the IRS is not its own “judge and jury.”
In my opinion, this is a practical, simple idea that is worth considering. Most IRS agents “play fair.” However, when they get overly aggressive or abusive, they can wreak havoc on a taxpayer, and the biggest problem is that it is very, very difficult to make them accountable to anyone.