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Taxing Thoughts

Bill Archer's proposal to reform the IRS

By Bob Harris

REPUBLICAN Congressman Bill Archer has a bold plan to make it harder for the IRS to barge into your house, take your stuff, and ruin your life. Sounds good. So far. Archer says--and most folks agree--that in disputed cases the burden of proof should lie with the IRS, instead of the taxpayer.

Damn straight. So far.

As things stand, if some IRS data hack blows a decimal point and his ancient Apple IIe decides you owe enough cash to upgrade his whole division to the almost-as-ancient Macintosh Plus, you're the one who has to prove him wrong. Meanwhile, you're running up penalties and interest; fight long enough, and you'll face seizure and worse. That's just plain wrong.

So far, so good.

Naturally, Archer's idea is gaining popularity. Just as naturally, Bill Clinton initially sided with the IRS, changing his mind only after a long night of soul-searching and incoming focus-group data. (Clinton's opinion-mongering is now so reflexive he'd probably support his own defenestration if it meant a boost in the polls: "I promised to provide our nation with responsive leadership. The people have spoken. The people want to hurl me through this window. And so, tonight, I say to all Americans: EEYAAHHhhhhhthunk!")

There's just one problem: When, exactly, did Bill Archer and the GOP suddenly start caring about the Bill of Rights? These are, after all, the same folks who would happily eliminate, among other things, the First Amendment in online communications, the Fourth and Fifth amendments in alleged drug and terrorist cases, and the Sixth through Eighth in immigration and capital crime cases.

And now, suddenly, they care about the Constitution?

Sure, the Archer plan might keep the IRS from knocking down your door--but what are you supposed to do about a surprise visit from the DEA, the INS, the BATF, the FBI, or the producers of Cops? Tough luck, Orange Jumpsuit Boy.

Don't get me wrong: shifting the burden of proof from citizens onto the IRS is long overdue. I've been audited myself. Yowch. I'll never forget the first time I got an official letter gently ordering me to present myself downtown and hand over the paper trail of my entire life. I bloody near fainted. (When a hungry animal has you in its jaws, it's only natural to play dead.) So I feel your pain.

But remember how our political system works: Follow the money. Bill Archer is the congressman from Houston, which means he inevitably represents the interests of a bunch of oil and aerospace firms who (a) like paying taxes even less than you do, and (b) have lawyers who can string together enough loopholes to weave a Persian rug. Is it possible that's who this new proposal is really for? You betcha.

Bill Archer's the same guy who pushed to abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax. Remember hearing about Fortune 500 companies who avoided paying even a dime to Uncle Sam? The AMT was created in 1986 to force the big boys to pay their fair share.

Jump-cut to two years ago: while Newt was styling his Contract around like Albert Belle in spring training, it was Archer leading the backroom effort to arbitrarily expand Newt's alleged mandate and sneak a repeal of the AMT into law--thereby moving almost $10 billion a year out of the U.S. Treasury and into the Forbes 400. So much for balanced budgets. . . .

By the way, 10 gig is roughly the same budget chunk the government couldn't afford for the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Evidently, giving money to the rich is good; giving money to the poor is bad. So listen closely. Archer's current fanfare for the common man is really just the same corporate brass line given a catchy pop motif. Sure, you and I might indeed retain relative handfuls of cash and privacy--while the biggest tax deadbeats in America make off with entire bankloads.

Predictably, the major dailies are hailing Archer without mentioning his well-documented long-term agenda. Apparently nobody in the mainstream media has a memory extending back to 1995. Even so, can we still tame the IRS while making the bullies play fair?

Yup. Easy.

You won't find the word corporation anywhere in the Bill of Rights. Look it up. America's founders never even considered extending anything resembling the rights of full citizenship to such fictitious corporate entities as Lockheed or Archer Daniels Midland. So let's try this: Reform the IRS--but for individuals only. And then let's see if Bill Archer and his flag-waving friends are still so enthusiastic about defending our personal freedom.

Bob Harris will appear as a contestant on the syndicated TV game show Jeopardy! on Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31 (and possibly, shall we say, thereafter).

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From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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