A Simpler Tax Code With a number of Obama Cabinet nominees getting tangled up in tax controversies, it might be time to renew the debate about tax simplification.
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A Simpler Tax Code

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A Simpler Tax Code

A Simpler Tax Code

A Simpler Tax Code

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If you take Timothy Geithner, Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer at their word, they are intelligent people, who have held important jobs in government.

And they couldn't figure out their taxes.

Former Sen. Daschle helped write tax laws. Killefer chaired the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board. Timothy Geithner, who now oversees the IRS, was an undersecretary of the Treasury.

But the U.S. tax code is 67,204 pages long — about as long as 112 copies of James Joyce's Ulysses. And just about as comprehensible.

There are reportedly 1,638 different tax forms, from the 1040 Short Form, to Form 8615, "Tax for Children Under Age 18 with Investment Income of More Than $1,700," which I wish pertained to our daughters.

The IRS estimates that a taxpayer needs 37 hours of time to prepare the basic short form. That's almost a full workweek.

If you are self-employed, they say it may take 80 hours to add up and document all of the deductions which, as Geithner, who tried to claim the cost of sending his children to summer camp as a child care expense, might tell you, you'd be an idiot not to include.

Warren Buffett likes to tell interviewers that he pays less than 20 percent in taxes on his income of billions, while his receptionist pays about 30 percent.

Maybe Buffet should lend her his accountants.

He says Congress should raise taxes for the higher income levels, including his own.

But Buffett could pay more taxes right now. He pays just 20 percent because he deploys lawyers and accountants to mine exemptions and deductions in the tax code, apparently preferring to pay millions to them to keep tens of millions or more from the U.S. Treasury.

That is not illegal or even evasive — just basic good sense. I wonder if increasing taxes while keeping a tax code so intricate that it stumped the new Treasury secretary will pay off for anyone except lawyers and accountants.

At least $300 billion of taxes reportedly go uncollected each year. Every new administration vows to correct that, and often says new spending programs won't increase the national debt because they'll rake in all those revenues.

But no administration does, in part, because the U.S. tax code is so tangled and intimidating, it is prohibitively expensive to try.

It has been years since the U.S. has had a serious debate about tax simplification, including a flat tax. Maybe President Obama's nominees can use their own experience to develop a tax code that's as simple as Dick and Jane, instead of Ulysses