Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is calling for a “simpler, fairer and flatter” tax code. In a report released on Tuesday, “Tax Decoder,” Coburn called the tax code a “powerful and elaborate system of rewards and punishments used to coerce Americans and manipulate the economy.”
He said the report is not intended to be a plan for reform but an educational guide for policy makers as well as taxpayers, although he did say the ideal solution would be to “throw out the entire tax code and start over.”
Among the exclusions and preferences Coburn would like to see eliminated are taxing carried interest as capital gains rather than ordinary income; tax-exempt interest on municipal bonds; inside build-up on cash-value life insurance policies, and credit unions’ tax-exempt status as a nonprofit.
Coburn gave a 27-minute farewell speech in the Senate yesterday attended by 40 other Senators.
Over time, the federal tax code has become unwieldy, the Senator argued. “The U.S. tax code is so complicated most Americans pay someone else to complete their tax forms. Even the members of Congress who are in charge of writing tax law admit they, to,o cannot do their own taxes,” Coburn wrote in the report.
The entire IRS tax code is now four million words long and covers 9,000 pages. In 1913, it was just 27 pages long.
More than just being complicated, though, Coburn claimed the tax code is unfair. “More than $1.7 trillion in federal income this year was collected from taxpayers, but this financial burden is not shared equally by all,” according to the report. “Due to the code’s complexity, your taxes are not a simple calculation of earnings and obligations. Instead, taxes are determined by how well you can take advantage of the hundreds of tax credits, deductions, exclusions and carve-outs tucked into the code.”
As a result of those “loopholes and giveaways, nearly half of American households pay no federal individual income tax, including over 1,000 with an adjusted gross income of $1 million,” the report claimed, citing research from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center and the IRS.
Coburn said that because some people at “both ends of the economic ladder” pay nothing in taxes, an unfair burden is placed on the middle class. He argues that while those with more will pay more, and those with less will pay less, everyone should pay something.
Corburn’s report found over 165 tax expenditures that will cost over $900 billion this year and could cost more than $5 trillion over the next five years. Some of those expenditures allow owners of professional sports teams to write off some of the costs associated with purchasing said team; gamblers to write off their losses; and credits and deductions to renovate vacation homes or purchase yachts.
Coburn argued that cutting tax breaks doesn’t equal raising taxes if rates are lowered simultaneously. Doing away with “tax spending giveaways” would allow lawmakers to reduce rates on the people who don’t benefit from those carve-outs. “After all, true tax cuts leave money entirely in the hands of those who earned it to begin with and allow them to spend or save it as they wish,” he wrote. “Tax preferences, by contrast, might leave some money in the hands of the taxpayer, but only if the individual behaves as the government dictates.”
Coburn announced in January that he would leave the Senate two years before the end of his term, and not run for re-election, due to a recurrence of prostate cancer.