IRS chief pushes for comprehensive reform, not piecemeal approach to tax reform

Meanwhile, Ways and Means to send tax extensions bill to full Senate on Thursday

Apr 2, 2014 @ 11:34 am

By Liz Skinner

IRS, Senate, tax reform, tax extenders
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IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (Bloomberg News)

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Americans deserve a simpler tax code that would make it easier for individuals and businesses to calculate how much they owe each year.

The nation's top tax regulator called on Congress and President Barack Obama to pass comprehensive tax reform, a step that the nation hasn't taken since 1986.

It's too difficult to fend off special interests if the tax code is examined and amended one provision at a time, he said.

“The advantage to doing it all at once is that the lobbyists can't all fit through the door at the same time,” Mr. Koskinen said at the National Press Club Wednesday.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for enforcing the tax code and processes about 150 million individual returns a year. About one million individual returns will be audited, he said.

Quoting the IRS taxpayer advocate’s estimate, Mr. Koskinen said individuals and businesses spend $6.1 billion a year to comply with the nation’s complicated set of tax laws.

The commissioner praised the comprehensive approach taken by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in a proposal he introduced in January, calling it “an important start.”

(See also: Extending tax breaks a priority for new Senate Finance Chairman.)

He also said the IRS should be included in all the working groups looking into different reforms.

“We need to be in that discussion to make sure that the simplification really is simple,” he said.

Mr. Koskinen described the likelihood of such comprehensive reform occurring this year as “slim,” especially given Mr. Camp's announcement yesterday that he will retire from the House.

One complicated tax provision for individuals that he mentioned needs improvement is the alternative minimum tax, which he described as “almost impenetrable.”

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee leaders said that they will send a limited tax reform bill to the full Senate Thursday. It would extend certain tax breaks that have expired or will end in 2014.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the measure would extend provisions involving the deduction for mortgage interest premiums, tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charities, the research and experimentation tax credit, multiemployer pension plan funding rules and others.

Even if approved by the full Senate this year, the tax extenders would likely face strong opposition from Republicans in the House.

Mr. Koskinen has been the nation's top tax regulator for three months. He follows Steven Miller, who was replaced as a result of the IRS management scandal concerning how tax-exempt-status applications from the Tea Party were handled.

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