Congress: Keep a Lid on the IRS
Home of the Dreaded IRS
Even in America, it's a little scary to say anything critical of the dreaded IRS, a federal agency commonly known as the Internal Revenue Service. But I've done it before and, as of yet, I'm still a free man, so (with fingers crossed) I'll try it again.
Some years ago, when a new director took over at the IRS, his letter (part of the 1040) invited taxpayers to write to him with their suggestions. I took advantage of the invitation.
With some trepidation, I asked the director: When is the IRS going to stop harassing little old ladies whose tax returns are not considered up to par? Believe it or not, my return was not audited that year; that's worth one cheer for the IRS.
Lawsuit Links IRS to Death
But the more things change the more they stay the same, as the cliche goes. This month a New Hampshire woman filed the first lawsuit against the IRS that blames the agency for a death, that of her spouse who committed suicide after enduring the agency's patented form of harassment.
Even after her husband's death, the IRS harassment did not stop as the agency filed claims against two life insurance policies.
"You killed my husband, and now you're coming after me?" the widow was quoted as saying.
The IRS, of course, says they've done nothing illegal in this case. A court will decide that issue.
My question is: Why does Congress allow the IRS to run amok, treading over taxpayers in a way that is sometimes reminiscent of the Gestapo?
An Unconstrained IRS
The real problem: Congress hands the IRS virtually unlimited powers to collect taxes and then shuts its bureaucratic eyes to the responsibility the legislation entails. Naturally, no politician would want to do anything to threaten the revenue Congress needs to balance the budget.
Sure, taxes must be collected -- and fairly! But, can the IRS use tactics that go far beyond what nongovernmental collectors can employ? The answer to that should be a resounding "No."
The IRS should be required to give immediate notice of delinquent taxes, not wait months or years for interest and penalties to pile up -- doubling, triipling or even quadrupling the tax bill.
And, more importantly, the agency should not be allowed to harass, cajole or threaten citizens.
The IRS may not like to admit it, but filing tax returns, for the average person, is not simple -- especially when there are unusual circumstances. For the elderly or handicapped, it's more difficult, even impossible.
People who are delinquent on their taxes, the IRS must understand, do not always fall behind on purpose. They are not -- as the IRS is too quick to assume -- tax cheats. Confusion about returns, or the inability to pay, is not the same as tax evasion, or even tax avoidance.
We need a kinder, gentler IRS -- or, as many propose, no IRS at all!
If we decide to keep the agency, Congress should keep a much closer eye on it and not let it pick on those who are powerless to fight back.
If you don't hear from me for an extended period of time, check with the IRS. I'm sure they'll be able to tell you where I am.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Aug. 16, 1997. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.