Given last week's revelation that the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, it's worth recalling President Obama's Ohio State University commencement address. The president decried "voices" warning "that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner."
It's no longer lurking. It's here.
Testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee by the outgoing acting IRS commissioner, Steve Miller, as well as numerous statements by individuals claiming they have been harassed and intimidated by IRS agents, reveal a government agency out of control, or more precisely, under the control of political hacks. It's doubtful this was a freelance operation. J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, testified he knew as early as June 2012 that the IRS was targeting conservatives, but did nothing to stop it during the presidential campaign. Who else knew?
The delay in tax exemption approval prevented some conservative groups from donating money to the Romney campaign or to groups supporting his candidacy. The IRS even asked one tea party group in Richmond to identify all of their financial donors and volunteers.
There is a simple way to restrain the IRS so this type of intrusion doesn't happen again: get rid of it. That's what Steve Forbes proposed in his run for president in 1996 and 2000. So did former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Forbes proposed a flat tax of 17 percent and a simple tax code. Individuals could file their tax returns on a post card.
"In the late 1800s, when Congress first attempted to impose an income tax, the notion of taxing a citizen's hard work was considered radical," Paul wrote in 2001. "Public outcry ensued; more importantly, the Supreme Court ruled the income tax unconstitutional. Only with passage of the 16th Amendment did Congress gain the ability to tax the productive endeavors of its citizens." And tax it did. And waste it did.
Paul contends the income tax amounts to only about one-third of federal revenue. I'm willing to wager that if nonessential government agencies and programs were eliminated and those remaining were reformed, or privatized, the savings would more than make up for the revenue loss.
Congressional Democrats -- and some Republicans -- will be reluctant to propose such a "radical" solution, because too many focus on revenue and not enough on misspending and dysfunctional agencies and programs.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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