IRS lawyers flog a dead horse

  • Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 12:01 a.m.

It is nearly six months before the next April 15 income-tax day for most Americans. But it is never too soon to begin thinking about taxes.

Certainly the government is on the case. Its lawyers were recently in court to claim that an 1884 “dead horse” act gives it authority to regulate, for the first time, the tax preparation industry.

It is a vicious circle. Congress passes ever more complex tax laws.

The IRS interprets them in ever more verbose rules. In order to take a deduction for a contribution to an individual retirement account, a taxpayer has to read seven pages of instructions, work through a 12-step formula, and is warned that if directions are not followed precisely, “You may get a math error notice from the IRS.”

So people recoil from the labor of calculating their taxes and the risk of error and ask for professional help.

The IRS then says it has to regulate the tax preparers, raising the costs of tax preparation services.

After a federal district court told the IRS it had no authority to regulate tax preparers, a government appeal cited the Horse Act of 1884. It gave the government authority to regulate persons hired by individuals to negotiate for payment of Civil War losses, often for dead livestock.

It is hard to see the relevance. On this the IRS deserves a logic error notice from the appeals court.

Meanwhile, a contributor to The Washington Post’s long-running word game contest, the Style Invitational, has suggested that the nation’s rising bill for health care, disability and public works should be covered by a tax on individual weight.

Eldon Carnahan proposed, for illustration, a tax of $10 a pound.

Thus, “A family of four that weighs 500 would owe $5,000, while a larger family — larger as in more numerous or larger as in, you know, larger — would pay more, given how much faster they wear out roads and bridges.”

Outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried regulating soda sizes, and first lady Michelle Obama has relied on publicity and peer pressure to fight obesity.

But this proposal takes the matter to a new level.

How can the Nanny State resist?

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