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Simplifying the Tax Code? - Tom Purcell

I have mixed feelings about it, if you want to know the truth.

I speak of tax-code simplification, another item on President Obama's to-do list.

Last April, he established a committee that includes some sharp people from both sides of the political aisle.

The committee, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, will soon release recommendations on how to simplify the tax code.

The tax issue has always been near and dear to me. I'm an independent writer, you see. Every year about now, I begin waking in cold sweats because of the massive clerical work I must do to file my taxes.

I keep hundreds of receipts in a large box in the closet of my home office. I must organize every one into its appropriate folder, tally and record the total and organize every transaction I made into a detailed document that I send to my CPA.

He has it even worse than I do, thanks to Republicans.

Long ago, Republicans were about simplicity where taxes were concerned. President Reagan took the mess that the tax code had been and led a simplification effort that made tax preparation so simple an English major could do it.

But since then, our politicians -- mostly Republicans when they were in charge of the White House and Congress -- added all kinds of nuances, albeit some in the form of tax cuts, to produce a monstrosity of a tax code.

Today, the U.S. tax code exceeds 67,000 pages -- a document so confusing, a busload of Harvard CPAs can't agree on what is in it.

During the presidential campaign, Obama offered some ideas to dramatically simplify tax preparation for about 40 percent of Americans.

He said he'd have the IRS use taxpayers' employer-provided financial information to "pre-populate" their tax-return forms for them.

Translation: The IRS would do your taxes for you.

Not to worry -- if a clerical error said you owed a couple million dollars, I'm sure you'd have to spend only a few weeks in jail before you straightened things out.

In any event, Obama's tax-simplification ideas sounded pretty good during the campaign and a year ago, but they've lost their luster since then -- since he and Congress spent the past year trying to "reform" and "simplify" our health-care system.

For starters, it doesn't sound like Obama's ideas would help out the self-employed much anyway -- even if he succeeded in simplifying the tax code.

I don't work for a company -- I don't file a W-2. I have a variety of sources of income. I'd still have to itemize. I'd still have to do battle with the box of receipts I keep in my closet.

My CPA, Tommy O, would likely be just as bad off -- if not worse.

If the way Obama and Congress went about health-care reform is any indication -- with apologies to Winston Churchill, the Senate's bill was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an ENEMA -- they'd likely make the tax code more complicated at the same time they jacked up our taxes.

In any event, now that their first stab at heath-care "reform" is dead -- now that Republican Scott Brown has won Ted Kennedy's old seat -- the odds are, reports The Hill, that Obama and Congress are too fatigued to try to reform the tax code.

On one hand, that's a bummer. I'm desperate for tax simplification.

But considering that things could be made even worse, I don't mind rooting around in a box of receipts as much as I used to.

As I said, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Visit Tom on the web at www.TomPurcell.com, or e-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.