In a recent column, I made a few disrespectful remarks about our income tax laws and about the institution that writes these laws, which is known as Incongruous Assembled.
Of the reader response that has reached me thus far, I would like to share three letters I consider worthy of your attention. One was written in the precise hand of a gentlewoman of advanced years. It said, in part:
"Ordinarily, you write sensibly. Even on the infrequent occasions when I disagree with you, I find you well-mannered, courteous, tolerant of contrary opinion and, perhaps most important of all, basically patriotic. You seem to love this country just as I do and just as millions of our countrymen do. This is crucial to my judgement of your character because next to my duty to God I know of no higher duty than that I owe this noble land of ours.
"It is for this reason that I am pained by your attacks upon our Congress. The Congress is, after all, nothing more than a reflection of the weaknesses and strengths that, in sum, are all of us. Is there a better system of government than one that permits the electorate to choose its spokesmen freely? Please stop attacking the Congress. It is the voice of the people."
The second letter was from J. F. S. of Alexandria and said: "I am the government and therefore hesitant to be publicly critical of the Congress. However, your annual income tax essay has aroused what small amount of courage I can muster, and I find myself shouting from the grandstand, 'Keep it up, Bill. Give 'em hell.'
"You have written that you know no better system of government. I must agree. I, too, can suggest no fundamental changes that give promise of making Congress more responsive to the needs of the electorate, or less selfish, or less likely to look out for its own interests first. However:
"Your 'one-term-and-out' suggestion strikes me as less than inspired. It would immediately deny us the continuing services of great legislative technicians -- the very men who give Congress whatever good marks it gets in the polls. Yet I can see your point. There is need to upgrade the caliber of those who seek and attain seats in the Congress, and I think that working out refinements in our system designed to achieve this end will be one of the great challenges of the decades ahead."
The third letter is from Gertrude L. Kane of Silver Spring, who is refreshingly unconcerned about being publicly critical of Congress.
My complaint, you may recall, was that Congress writes income tax laws so conplicated that nobody -- or, as Ralph Brown says, nobody -- can understand them.
My suggested solution was a law that would require every member of Congress to prepare his own income tax return, with cruel and unusual punishment (exile to Iran) the penalty for any member of the Congress who sought, or gave, help in the preparation of a return.
The reasoning was quite sound, I though: If you don't understand the law you passed, you lamebrained son of a jackass, how in the world do you expect us to understand it and comply with it?
That column moved Mrs. Kane to write: "I am willing to wager that very few of your readers are aware that no Representative or Senator needs to do his or her own return. The Internal Revenue Service provides that service for them. At tax time, there is an office set up 'on the Hill' for that purpose. When these returns are filed, can you picture any IRS employee sending back for review or audit a return that carries the notation, 'Prepared by Congressional IRS Ofice'? I can not."
Neighter can I, Mrs. Kane. The IRS will make out returns for ordinary peons only if their income is low and they take a standard deduction. One who earns a congressional-level income by producing something of value in the private sector instead of by feeding at the public trough is strictly on his own. Our income tax laws consider him an enemy of the people until and unless he can prove otherwise.
I always assume that my own tax return will be audited every year because it's my job to write the truth as I perceive it, and when I do that, i figure some congressmen is just bound to ask the IRS, "Did you audit that !*& $3/4!*'s return this year?"
So, inasmuch as misery loves company: Welcome to the club, Mrs. Kane, and save all your receipts. You, too, are now a good candidate for an audit But don't worry about it.
I can give you a foolproof system for staying out of trouble.
Just fill out your return truthfully and accurately, and then pay IRS anything it says you owe, even when IRS is wrong.
If you do that, you don't have to worry about Publicly proclaiming, as I do: "I think Congress should be ashamed of the income tax system it has inflicted upon us. I, for one, am not mystified by the low ratings Congress gets in public opinion polls."