The release of Bill and Hillary Clinton's tax returns show they have done a great job making money — collecting $109 million over the past eight years, chiefly from book deals and Bill's hang time with an odd lot of celebrity seekers and tycoons. Investigative reporters will pore through the tax returns, digging for clues about Bill's relationship with billionaire Ron Burkle. They might also look for deductions that match Bill's offset in 1986 of $6 for three pairs of donated used underwear. (The IRS might agree that Bill's undies today have greater value.)
The irony of the Clintons calling for the rich to pay more taxes, while personally seeking their own exemptions, seems less surprising than the fact that the Clintons are among the many who just can't make the April 15 deadline. This year, as they have for the previous three years, the Clinton will seek an extension.
They need more time.
I know the feeling.
The outrage is not about the Clintons but about an American system of tax collection that is maddeningly complex, confusing, and just painful.
I'm not talking about the cost of taxes. I'd like to pay less, of course. But I'd even pay more — let's say, 10 percent — if I didn't have to spend dozens of hours collecting information or hiring an accountant for $200 to $400 just to keep me square with Uncle Sam.
Things are so bad that even Form 1040EZ has become a challenge. Long ago as a college student, I could do the form in 15 minutes. But form 1040EZ has morphed into 1040PAIN. Each line of the return sends you to a fat instruction book. Good luck trying to figure it out.
But I don't like quitting. I'm the guy who insists on fixing the leaky faucet himself without calling a plumber. So this year, I did not call an accountant. I paid $80 for TurboTax, which promised that my "taxes have never been easier." They weren't. TurboTax promised to help search for 350 deductions. But think about that. Why should there be 350 deductions? How did railroad track maintenance and distilled spirits get their own rules?
The tax code has become a policy tool by which the U.S. government favors certain industries (oil), certain behavior (purchases of hybrid cars), mortgage holders over renters, and profits from stock sales over hourly wages.
All of this stuff got into the tax code because enough people in Congress agreed to it. So sure, give a break to ethanol or biofuels. Maybe we do need specific rules for tobacco growers, which you can find in a jiffy at Section 451 of the Internal Revenue Code and in Section 1.451-1(a).
Just be sure to subtract line 63 from line 72, and do it all over again as the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The Tax Foundation estimates that the average American spends 21 hours doing the 1040 or nearly seven hours doing the 1040EZ. Fifty million Americans just hire a professional.
Why do we accept this? Why has the aggravation of our tax code disappeared from this year's presidential campaign?
My fellow Americans, united we can do anything. Let's exempt the poor, raise taxes on the rest of us a bit, and eliminate deductions, loopholes, tax lawyers, and accountants (sorry to the many accountants I personally like). For the time saved, we can walk the dog, read to a child, help at food bank, go to bed early, or watch basketball. It's called freedom.
It isn't crazy to ask for this. It's crazy to accept 21 hours of misery each year.
Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this commentary and the accompanying schedules and statements. I hope the IRS isn't reading.