Immediately after sending off a quart of my blood to the IRS on April 16, I wrote a column that reluctantly conluded there is no practical alternative to this annual bloodletting.
Taxes are the price we pay for living in civilized communities. Without them we would not have the funds to provide the scores of government services that modern man considers essential.
Even before that column was sent to the composing room, I realized there was a serious flaw in it. The column said too little about mismanagement and waste, and it didn't even mention outright fraud against the government. There just hadn't been enough space available to deal with those topics.
Sure enough, readers fed up with high taxes have been peppering me with rebuttals. Consider this one from an Oxon Hill man who wants his name withheld because he thinks the government has treated him unfairly after 29 years of service:
"I fully agree that taxes are needed for the items listed by you, but what about all the free-loaders that government supports? I have a file on the waste in government but will enclose only one article that made me burn when I paid my taxes.
"And what about all the congreesmen who travel all over the world?
There was an excellent article about these trips in the 2o April issue of U.S. News and World Report. It said, 'Congressional junketing this year is expected to cost $3 million.' These clowns cannot solve our problems at home, yet they go all over the world trying to help other countries. We have 42 lawmakers in China right now, probably with their wives and huge staffs. Why don't you write an article about how much this country is giving away to OPEC nations that are charging us so much for oil?"
My friend, it is safe to assume that other taxpayers share your opposition to waste and unnecessary spending, although there would be controversy over what is necessary spending and what is unnecessary. However, opposition to fraud against the governement may be less than unanimous. After all, some people make a good living by cheating Uncle Sugar.
Before you permit these sins of omission and commission to drive up your blood pressure, consider this:,tThe $3 million cost of congressional junkets may seem large, but it is less than one-thousandth of 1 percent of our $550 billion federal budget. Even the $100 million ripped off by fraud and waste at GSA was less than one-fiftieth of 1 percent of the annual cost of government.
If every congressman had stayed at home and every GSA employee had been 100 percent honest and hardworking, your tax bill would have been reduced by only 2 cents on each $100 you paid.
I am as piously opposed to waste and corruption as you are, but let's be practical. If every sinner in government were miraculously transformed into a saint by tomorrow morning, the federal budget would still be astronomical and our tax bill would still be a pain in the neck.
The only way to relieve the situation to some extent would be to adopt a constitutional amendment that says: "Every member of the Congress shall submit an annual affidavit that he received no help in preparing his income tax return. Failure to submit such an affidavit or the submission of a false affidavit shall be punishable by expulsion from the Congress and a year in jail."
Although our taxes might not be reduced much by such a rule, the method of computation would probably be simplified in a big hurry.
I think we have a right to demand that the people who write our tax laws should understand what it is they are ordering us to do. One good way to get them to understand is to make sure they share our burden.
Tax laws that can't be understood, even by the legislators who enacted them, are an abomination. Laws so complex they lead to endless legal wrangles are doubly damagine. They engender disrespect for all laws.
If you are strong enough to cope with the idea, think what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if the Ways and Means Committee had written them. The mind boggles.