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Column - Does Tax Day have to be so painful?


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Americans don't dread April 15 because we resist the idea of paying our fair share. Rather, those I talk to--even those of us who think tax rates should be kept as low as possible--recognize that each of us has a patriotic duty to ensure that essential functions of government are properly funded. Still, Tax Day makes us cringe because the process of preparing and filing taxes is confusing, frustrating and overly-burdensome. The whole exercise can seem pretty darned unfair.

One might say that our federal tax code leaves taxpayers feeling either like a crook or a sucker.

Consider the case of two neighbors, John and Jane, who earn the exact same level of personal income. John itemizes his deductions and takes advantage of numerous credits. He ends up paying far less than Jane, who takes the standard deduction and a minimal amount of credits. When John learns what Jane paid in taxes, he probably wonders if he interpreted the code too aggressively and ran afoul of the IRS. Meanwhile, Jane wonders whether she might have paid more to the IRS than the law requires her to.

The root cause of our "crook or sucker" dilemma is that our tax code has become larded up with a mind-numbing array of special tax provisions which benefit a narrow constituency to the disadvantage of all other Americans. This is the very phenomenon responsible for the peculiar and widely unpopular situation where a CEO is allowed to pay a lower effective tax rate than her secretary.

Simplifying the tax code and removing such distortions was the motivating force behind tax reform in 1986--the last time Republicans and Democrats worked together to update and improve our internal revenue code. That bipartisan effort left more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans and helped spawn a decade-plus of economic growth.

In the quarter-century that followed the '86 reforms, Washington has again allowed the code to become cluttered with countless provisions that don't benefit rank-and-file Americans. It's past time for a spring cleaning.

Fortunately, there seems to be strong bipartisan agreement on the need for reform. Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have been meeting with Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee to chart a path towards a new round of tax reform, and our visions are extraordinarily similar. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I'm committed to working with my colleagues to implement the bold reforms necessary to help increase middle class incomes, incentivize job creation, and protect retirement savings.

We aim to have details worked out by this fall, and invite you to weigh in on this important effort. If there were things about filing your taxes this year that you thought were confusing, frustrating or just plain unfair, don't hesitate to contact our office via our website at, or by phone at (202) 225-5315.

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