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Making lawmakers pay taxes

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Posted: 2 pm ET

While I was letting Congress know that it needs to stop encouraging taxpayers to cheat, a Senator decided it was time to make sure his colleagues are properly paying the IRS.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has introduced a bill that would require U.S. lawmakers to disclose any money they owe in delinquent taxes and to have their wages garnished until the debt is paid.

But the Sooner State lawmaker is not stopping there. Coburn also introduced a bill calling for the firing of federal employees who owe money on their taxes and haven't entered payment plans. That measure is a companion to a House bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

The tax debts of lawmakers is getting renewed attention after the Washington Post recently sorted through IRS data and found that about 99,000 federal workers owe back taxes for the 2009 tax year. Unfortunately, this trend is not new; a similar situation was reported in connection with federal workers and unpaid 2008 taxes.

Because of tax privacy laws, there are no names associated with the delinquent taxes, but it is conceivable that some men and women who serve in Congress could be among the scofflaws.

What do you think of these proposals? I agree that all who are paid with our tax dollars, including our lawmakers, should follow the laws of our land. But do we need additional laws just for them? I don't think so.

The IRS already has a system in place to collect unpaid taxes. It includes the garnishment of some wages and placing liens on property. I doubt Coburn's bill would add anything to the process. It looks to me to essentially be political grandstanding as the Nov. 2 midterm election date nears.

As for firing federal workers who owe the IRS and haven't made arrangements with the tax agency to pay their bills, again I'm leery of added laws, especially such an across-the-board approach. Do we know why a person, federal employee or private sector wage earner, hasn't paid their taxes or what steps they might be taking to do so? You can bet the IRS knows -- that's where the Washington Post got its data on unpaid taxes -- and is already working on getting the money.

We don't need to spend money to put duplicative laws in place. We should just enforce the ones we have.

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