The Internal Revenue Service has on staff a taxpayer advocate who is required by law to submit an annual report to Congress. This year the advocate's report included a recommendation that has become something of a regular part of the report: for the good of the citizenry, Congress needs to simplify the tax code.
"In this report, we identify tax complexity as the #1 most serious problem facing taxpayers, and we recommend (as we have in prior reports) that Congress vastly simplify the tax code to make tax compliance easier," wrote National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson.
"An analysis of IRS data by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate shows it takes U.S. taxpayers (both individuals and businesses) more than 6.1 billion hours to complete filings required by a tax code that contains almost four million words and that, on average, has more than one new provision added to it daily," she wrote. "Indeed, few taxpayers complete their returns without assistance. Nearly 60 percent of taxpayers hire paid preparers and another 30 percent rely on commercial software to prepare their returns. To inspire confidence and trust, the tax laws should be comprehensible and the computations of tax should be transparent and relatively simple, yet few taxpayers today can confidently say they understand the tax code or even that they have correctly computed their tax liabilities."
Simplifying the tax code is not some right-wing code for cutting taxes. It is a necessary step for relieving what has become an onerous burden on the American public. And yet both parties have spent decades making the code more complex because both believe in using the code as a tool for achieving political ends, not simply for raising revenue.
Both President Obama and Republican leaders in the U.S. House say they believe the code should be simplified. Olson's report gives them ample reasons for doing so sooner rather than later. But the odds are that we shall pass yet another Tax Day with no real reform, only excuses and blame.