Former acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service Steven Miller was rolling along pretty good on Friday, bravely facing down his inquisitors from the House Ways and Means Committee.
And then he had to go and admit it.
Time and time again when asked Miller insisted there was nothing politically maniacal about IRS agents singling out ideologically conservative groups for tax harassment. President Barack Obama’s favorite independent agency wasn’t doing its favorite chief executive’s bidding, he said.
But during a grueling four hours, Miller spilled it.
“We provided horrible customer service here,” Miller testified. “I will admit that.”
That breaks it, I thought, turning off the television. Now Americans will never get the opportunity to have their beloved tax collection agency do their taxes for them.
The plan is all right there in a bill jammed up since April 12 in this very House and Ways Committee. House Resolution 1532, or as its authors call it, the Autofill Act of 2013.
The legislation, to judge from a March 26 adver…news story by Pro Publica,is nothing short of a miracle.
“Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes — and for free,” the story begins. “You’d open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.”
Tax collectors figuring out what you owe them is all the rage in Denmark, Spain and Sweden, the investigative website said.
All that convenience and $2 billion in taxpayers savings, according to the bill’s authors, Democratic Congressmen Bill Foster and Mike Quigley of Illinois, a state that to date has authored a $44 billion deficit.
And all of this done for you by the most trusted name in government service.
Expanding IRS authority in this small way has an honorable pedigree. Then Sen. Barack Obama himself in 2007 told an audience at the Tax Policy Institute, “The government already collects wage and bank account information, so there’s no reason the IRS can’t send Americans pre-filled tax forms to verify,” according to a Daily Caller story.
In 2011, Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, another Democrat hopefully called his Simple Return Act “a bill that would get the IRS to do your taxes for you.”
Foster followed by filing his Autofill Act. He said he was smitten with a program pioneered in California, the nation’s leader in big government innovation.
Foster, however, did not study California’s Ready Return program very carefully. It isn’t very popular. About 9 percent of the 1 million taxpayers with the simplest forms eligible for the program chose the IRS as their tax preparer of choice in 2012, Forbes said.
The federal legislation is even less popular. Cooper and Foster’s bills failed. Bill tracking website Govtrack.us gives the latest Autofill Act a 1 percent chance to make it out of committee. Its chance of becoming law, Govtrack says, is zero.
It isn’t so much that the laws aren’t perfectly well written. It’s just that they don’t particularly appeal to people who have long believed it isn’t only horrible customer service taxpayers have been getting from the IRS.
In 2005, right around the time big government fanciers began talking about new and expanded duties for the Big Tax House, Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform first told the Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform what a bad idea return free filing was.
Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, told the Daily Caller return free filing was “brilliantly Machiavellian.”
“There is a fundamental conflict of interest if the tax collectors also become the tax preparer,” Black said. “If you don’t trust the fox to guard your hen house, why trust the IRS to do your taxes. It’s the same exact thing. They make it sound so convenient, but it’s really just a convenient way to kiss your deductions and tax credits goodbye.”
For every free filing bill filed there were bills filed barring the Treasury Department from doing any such thing. Those blocking bills were every bit as unsuccessful as the filing bills.
A sort-of taxican standoff, if you will.
And now every bit of the high stakes gamesmanship to nurture and grow one lousy government agency is being undone by a few zealous agents a little too curious about just what goes on at those fancy tea parties.
Well, one taxpayer can’t do much. But after the Ways and Means hearings are over, I expect former commissioner Miller will have some extra time on his hands.
I plan to invite him over to my house to do my taxes. For free. I’ll be serving tea.
“This article first appeared on Franklin Center. Reproduced with permission”