Updated: January 4, 2014 6:12AM
This year brought emotional commemorations of two momentous events in U.S. history, the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address. Passing almost without notice, however, was the centennial of an act that today reaches into nearly every American home: the imposition of the income tax.
Actually two dates mark the federal government’s power to claim a share of your paycheck. On Feb. 3, 1913, Delaware provided the final approval needed to ratify the 16th Amendment legalizing the income tax. Eight months later, on Oct. 3, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law legislation enacting the tax.
Today our income tax system is in need of correctives on two fronts.
The tax code has been inflated by social-engineering lawmakers and rent-seeking special interests to an incomprehensible 74,000 pages. That cries out for reform.
Agents of the nation’s tax collector, the Internal Revenue Service, have been caught harassing conservative groups, in other words the opponents of the Obama administration. This cries out for remedy.
Little is likely to happen on either front. Democrats and Republicans trust each other so little and are so divided in their economic views that significant tax reform seems unlikely anytime soon. To call that regrettable is an understatement given that only a couple of years ago the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission produced a blueprint for reform that lowered rates in exchange for reducing loopholes.
More troubling is the IRS meddling in politics. Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media mostly dismiss the targeting of tea party groups as a harmless foul-up by bureaucrats. Republicans see the unelected permanent government, mostly liberal, trying to undermine the influence of conservatives. Republicans have the better argument. For starters, prominent Democratic lawmakers like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and left-wing media such as the New York Times called for the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt bona fides of tea party groups.
When called before a congressional investigation to explain the targeting of conservatives, IRS officials responded with evasive and disingenuous answers. For example, IRS chief counsel William Wilkins answered “I don’t recall” 80 times to the House Oversight Committee. One IRS honcho at the heart of the scandal, Lois Lerner, avoided testifying by citing the Fifth Amendment. She has since retired, keeping her pension.
Far from being chastened by this scandal, the IRS revealed last week that it would further restrict the political activities of 501(c)4 groups, the technical designation for nonprofits like the tea party outfits.
Think about that. IRS bureaucrats are going to be determining what Americans can do to participate in our political process. If this infringement of free speech were happening to left-wing groups during a GOP administration, liberals would be up in arms. Their silence, nay, their support for this abuse by the IRS because conservative groups will overwhelmingly be affected speaks volumes about 21st century liberalism. Liberals should listen to the IRS. It’s saying that if you like your political speech, you can keep it.