Out With The Old, In With The New ... Not So Fast
By Wendy King/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (April 14) -- Early on, 1998 promised to be the year when "scrapping the tax code" was a Republican mantra and reforming the IRS was a reasonable, and foreseeable, goal.
A few months have passed in this election year, and there are still plenty of Republicans who want to replace the existing tax
code, but it seems that won't happen for awhile.
Just prior to the Easter recess, the Senate spent a week debating the fiscal 1999 budget resolution. High drama was absent as lawmakers hashed out dozens of non-binding amendments, including "sunsetting" the current tax code by the end of 2001. It was a forum for airing opposing views, but any consequential changes will have to wait.
While Republican House sponsors of one of the tax code termination bills may have enough votes, the long-range outlook is bleak, with promised resistance from Senate Democrats and the White House. The GOP, while professing support, has admitted that a "scrap the code" initiative could not survive an up-or-down vote.
But, then again, this is an election year. Simplifying the tax code may be music to voters' ears, even if big fundamental changes to the tax system won't happen for years to come. And that means many folks in Congress are fighting for their fair share under the old system. The result: Members of the 105th Congress have so far proposed 607 bills to provide tax credits or incentives in their districts, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Many of these Republican sponsors are the same ones who support axing the tax code altogether. And while the majority of legislation only complicates the 15-volume, 800,000-word tax code, many in the GOP see no contradiction in proposing new rules while trying to simplify the whole mess.
The Republicans have become their own biggest obstacle in the crusade to "scrap the code." While they talk the talk, they are, in fact, walking backwards.
Some tinkering with the system may occur as lawmakers try to reform the Internal Revenue Service. Senate Finance Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-Del.), who grabbed the spotlight
last fall by showcasing stories of disgruntled and abused taxpayers in Capitol Hill hearings,
is determined to find the necessary funding to make feasible his planned overhaul of the
IRS. The House resoundingly passed an overhaul bill last November, and the legislation
eventually garnered the support of President Bill Clinton. Roth's updated version of the bill
has caused some concern among lawmakers since the cost and coverage have vastly expanded.
Roth's new bill exceeds the House-approved provisions and provides taxpayer relief in the form of an "innocent spouse" clause, where tax debt is found to be the responsibility of an
ex-spouse. The "innocent spouse" relief would cost an estimated $5.2 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Though funding is an obstacle, Senate
leaders are expected to debate and vote on the bill by early May.
And while the existing tax code will not meet its demise soon, the GOP will pursue specific tax cuts, such as reducing the marriage penalty, under which some married working couples end up paying higher taxes when they file jointly than if they were single.
And projections of budget surplues have also encouraged a flurry of tax-cutting plans which would be offset by cuts in domestic spending.
For now, taxpayers will have to settle for a mere tweaking of tax laws. But in the next 31 months leading up to the presidential election in 2000, the debate over abolishing the tax code and determining its replacement will have plenty of time to mature.