Bringing Some Sunshine to the IRS

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WASHINGTON: The taxpayer will have his rights trampled on no more, at least not if the Senate has anything to do with it. With one eye to last month’s hearings and the other to next November, the chamber voted 97-0 Thursday night in favor of a bill to overhaul the IRS. The unanimity and bipartisanship was surprising, but not entirely unexpected -- after all, who would dare support a government agency that congressional witnesses have compared to the Gestapo? As the chief architect of the bill, Sen. William V. Roth, charmingly put it, the IRS "has too much power and not enough sunshine."

Which is all well and good, and senators will be able to head back to their constituencies trumpeting this achievement. But beyond the flowery rhetoric, what will Roth's bill do? Some of the provisions, such as creating an independent appeals process for taxpayers, make good sense and cost no money. Others, like putting a time limit on failure-to-pay penalties, might play well in Peoria but will cost the administration a total of $18 billion over 10 years. Some clauses sound downright dubious: Who wants to tell the voters that the Senate just handed the IRS 40 new executives at $175,400 a pop?