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“Claire,” I hear you all say, “You spend all of your time raving about Donald Trump making nutball promises to a credulous electorate. Why don’t you ever point out that Ted Cruz’s nutball schemes make no sense, either?”
(Actually, no one has ever said that to me, not even once, but I realized it this morning while I was reviewing last night’s debate transcript, so I figured this was a good opportunity to prove I’m equal-opportunity indignant. I’m against-all-nuts. It just hadn’t occurred to me that one of Cruz’s promises is Trump-level nutty: I was so busy barreling down Trump Tunnelvision Turnpike that I forgot to turn on the Cruz Control.)
Now, like every live-blooded American, I love the words “Abolish the IRS.” I love them so much that I didn’t really think deeply about them. The words themselves had me hypnotized, like a python in a snake-charmer’s gaze, giving me a tingly-all-over yes! feeling. (How could Cruz be doing so poorly in the primaries given this absolutely beautiful campaign slogan? Those are the winningest words in the English language.)
It’s not going to happen. All adults know this will not happen. Mexico’s not going to pay for the wall, and the IRS will not be abolished. Promising such a thing is an insult to our intelligence. Another one.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for simplifying the tax code, and I don’t think Cruz’s proposals for doing that are entirely nutty. The tax code should be at least this simple: If you don’t earn enough to afford an accountant, you shouldn’t need one to file your taxes. And obviously, the politicization of the IRS is an unspeakable breach of the public trust. Someone, for sure, should be abolished for that. Probably a bunch of someones.
But come on. You can rename the IRS. (In fact, they tried rebranding in the 1950s: The Bureau of Internal Revenue became the Internal Revenue Service. Strangely, Americans still didn’t like it.) You can lay off its management and many of its employees. You can, and should, pass a much simpler tax code, although that’s not actually something the president gets to do, and it’s definitely not something the president gets to do if he also believes Obamacare should have been struck down as a violation of the origination clause. And even if he’s wobbly about that, he’s not allowed to be wobbly about Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution or the 16th Amendment. (Or at least, someone who thinks the president shall have power to lay and collect taxes is not to be trusted if he promises to appoint avowed originalists as to the Supreme Court.) “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,” it says; those words are clear as springwater, and they’re definitely what our forebears meant. After all, taxation by monarchical decree is what got them lathered up in the first place.
So. We’re still going to have a tax-collection agency, because someone’s still got to collect the taxes. Changing the name won’t change what it is. Someone has to receive those tax returns, even if they’re on a postcard. Someone still has to cash the checks. Someone’s still got to do the audits, not least because Cruz is proposing anti-fraud reforms — meaning regulations — and someone will have to execute those reforms, unless the reform says, “From now on, America, you’re on the honor system.”
The Child Tax Credit will remain in place, and the Simple Flat Tax Plan expands and modernizes the Earned Income Tax Credit with greater anti-fraud and pro-marriage reforms. As a result, the Simple Flat Tax will ensure that low- and middle-income Americans have greater opportunities – not only through minimal taxes, but also through better, high-paying jobs that the Simple Flat Tax will generate. Under the plan, deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest payments are preserved.
Employers are still going to have to report wages. Banks are still going to have to report investment income. There’s still a child tax credit. Still an EITC. Still a charitable deduction. Still a mortgage deduction. A business VAT instead of a corporate income tax, but someone’s still going to have to collect those taxes. Someone’s got to check to see if the numbers add up. Someone’s got to take Leona Helmsley to court. Cruz says he’s going to move the IRS to “some much smaller division” of the Treasury Department. But it’s still going to be part of the Treasury Department, so will all its employees literally be moved to a new, smaller office? Who’s going to pay for the move? If not, what does this (literally) mean?
Will they all be fired and replaced with new ones, albeit in smaller numbers, before they move into their new office? And would it be quite fair (or an efficient use of our tax money) to fire everyone at the IRS? After all, the complexity of the tax code isn’t their fault. They’re enforcing laws passed by Congress. (Wouldn’t it be more fair to fire Congress?) In fact, wouldn’t it be quite unfair to fire diligent employees who were in no way associated with recent scandals, only to replace them with new federal employees who will do roughly the same jobs they do? Wouldn’t there be quite a bit of waste involved in firing the best and most experienced of these employees and replacing them with new federal employees with no experience at all? Would the ones who were fired be entitled to unemployment insurance? To their federal pensions? Would the new ones also be entitled to federal benefits?
Contest of the day: Congratulations! You’re the marketing exec who won the “Rebrand the IRS” account. Choose its new name. Your goal is to make taxpayers feel good about the agency that takes their money. So good that they’ll be glad their money was used to pay your salary. Good luck.