Bill would force U.S. lawmakers to disclose owed taxes, have wages garnished

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
By T.W. Farnam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 8:30 AM

As senators debate tax legislation this month, Sen. Tom Coburn wants to make sure that senators themselves are paying taxes.

Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced legislation Wednesday night that would require U.S. lawmakers to disclose any money they owe in delinquent taxes and to have their wages garnished until the debt is paid.

"Taxpayers are fed up with those in Washington living under a different set of rules than the rest of America," Coburn said in a statement entered into the Congressional Record. "At a time when Congress may allow taxes to increase on some or even all Americans, Congress should not expect other Americans to pay more taxes when they are not even paying the taxes they owe under the rates they set themselves."

The Washington Post reported last week that workers in the House and Senate, possibly including lawmakers, owe an increasing amount to the federal government. The amount has risen 37 percent in two years, reaching $9.3 million last year, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.

That's a small sliver of the $1 billion owed by all federal workers, but the amount owed by Congress's 18,000 workers has risen faster than the overall delinquent debt on the government's books. The total does not include debt that's already on an installment plan.

Coburn's legislation would require lawmakers to include back taxes owed on their annual financial disclosure statements, and trigger an automatic ethics investigation of any member who reports a tax debt.

Disclosure forms require lawmakers to list debt, but tax liabilities can be currently excluded because the government is not considered a creditor under the disclosure law.

"Legislators and government employees should not be exempt from the laws they write and enforce," Coburn said in his statement. "The very nature of federal employment and the concept inherent to 'public service' demands those being paid by taxpayers contribute their fair share of taxes. They should lead by example."

Congress is weighing whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31. Republicans are hoping to extend them all, but President Obama and some other Democrats want to see the tax rates for income above $250,000 revert to Clinton-era levels.

The legislation introduced Wednesday would require lawmakers to list delinquent tax liabilities to federal, state or local governments. The bill was introduced with three Republican co-sponsors, Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), John Ensign (Nev.) and John Thune (S.D.).

Coburn also introduced a Senate companion bill to House legislation that would fire federal employees who owe money on their taxes and haven't entered payment plans. That legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and has nine Republican co-sponsors there.

Federal workers are required by law to stay in good graces with the IRS. About 99,000 federal workers owe back taxes.

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