Simplified Tax Code, Obama Edition

Between covering breaking news of the First Pup’s television debut and yukking it up on prime time with juvenile teabag jokes, media personalities have been absolutely swamped this month.  Undoubtedly the talking heads would have found an angle that combined the two stories had Bo Obama not already been neutered.

But somehow amidst these concerns of grave national interest, and before swine flu began dominating the news cycle, little coverage was given to the implications of a significant tax day announcement. President Obama revealed that a rewritten federal tax code will soon “make it easier, quicker and less expensive for you to file a return, so that April 15th is not a date that is approached with dread every year.”

A simplified tax code is something most Americans can get behind.  The federal tax code now stands at a whopping 70,000 pages.  85 percent of American adults say the federal tax code is complex, and 82 percent say the tax system needs to be completely overhauled.

So what can we expect from an Obama approved tax code revision?  The first phase of the administration’s plan, conceived during the presidential campaign by economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, aims to eliminate tax returns for 17 million  Americans.

Under the “Simple Return” plan, the Internal Revenue Service would complete tax returns for taxpayers whose sole income comes from one employer and whose interest income comes from one bank. The IRS would then send a copy of the return to the taxpayer. If the first wave of the program worked well, it could be expanded to other taxpayers.

The second and third waves of the Simple Return plan could bring the total to 52 million participating taxpayers.

The good news? Next year you may not have to file a federal tax return.

The bad news?  The IRS will prepare your return for you.

Forgive me for plucking off a bit of low hanging fruit, but it’s hard to overlook that the IRS is overseen by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a man who failed to pay several several years worth of self-employment taxes until his finances went under the Senate microscope during confirmation hearings. His excuse was something along the lines of “TurboTax made me do it.”  Who better to oversee the team of bureaucrats charged with calculating your tax bill?

But easy targets aside, this “simplification” is a political cop out.  Many of the complexities in our federal tax code are there because some politician, special interest group, or narrow constituency has lobbied for their existence.  Some serve legitimate government interests, but many don’t.  President Obama, like those who preceded him, will not risk alienating powerful voting blocs by ordering a careful review of the tax breaks and incentives that contribute to the corpulence of the code.

Instead, he pretends that the solution to a bloated tax code is a bloated IRS.  The IRS has been serving up spoiled broth, and Barack Obama wants to hire more cooks.  That’s certainly a different way of doing things, but simpler?  I don’t think so.

Proponents of the Simple Return plan boast that it could save taxpayers 225 million hours currently spent on tax compliance, and $2 billion in tax return preparation costs.  But how many additional Internal Revenue Service agents will it take to complete returns on behalf of 52 million taxpayers?  How many millions of taxpayer dollars will it take to implement this program?

And even if Austan Goolsbee’s plan wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime, should the government encourage people to shift partial responsibility for their finances to the IRS?  What federal interest does it serve when citizens relinquish personal responsibility to become more dependent on the government for tasks they can accomplish themselves?  Shouldn’t we be wary when the federal government offers to permanently shoulder our burdens?

Keep in mind, the vast majority of the tax returns we’re talking about are simple 1040EZ forms.  Even the IRS estimates a 1040EZ takes just a few hours to complete, but for anyone with a pulse and a modicum of aptitude with a calculator, the compliance time is more likely to be minutes, not hours.  The cost for individual taxpayers filing the 1040EZ is virtually nil – perhaps the nuisance of spending an evening in – except when they choose to hire a tax preparer.  Unless the filer is illiterate or disabled, tax preparation fees are completely optional.

Why should compliance costs that are voluntarily incurred by individuals become the collective responsibility of American taxpayers?

For the most conscientious among us, compliance costs will, of course, not change at all.  Even if our tax returns are completed by IRS bureaucrats, we will spend the same amount of time and money checking calculations as we do now.  Only the people willing to put absolute faith in IRS number crunchers will “benefit” from this new type of government dependence.  I’m betting those are the same people who place absolute faith in President Obama.

Getting South Carolina Lawmakers To Go On The Record

It isn’t hard to figure out why South Carolina state legislators spend taxpayer dollars so irresponsibly: anonymous voice votes shield them from being held accountable by constituents.

South Carolina ranks lowest in the nation for legislative accountability and the vast majority of votes in the state legislature are never recorded.  South Carolina is one of only five states where legislators are not required to record votes.  In 2008, the South Carolina House of Representatives recorded only 8 percent of votes on general bills or joint resolutions, and the Senate recorded only 1 percent.

A roll call rule to improve legislative vote recording took effect in January, but the measure is temporary and subject to the whims of the legislature.  The Spending Accountability Act of 2009 (H. 3047) is a more permanent solution introduced by possible 2010 gubernatorial candidate Rep. Nikki Haley.  S. 11 is the companion Senate bill.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are sponsoring the bills, but support is not universal.  Opponents say roll calls for every vote will incur unjustifiable expense, an excuse that’s pretty rich coming from legislators who approved funding for an Elvis impersonator, a deep fryer, and a “Doo-Da” Festival.

A House subcommittee hearing on the Spending Accountability Act is scheduled for Tuesday, April 21, 2009.  The citizens of South Carolina have a right to know how elected officials are voting on all issues brought before the South Carolina General Assembly.   Remind the legislature that transparency in government is not optional by urging them to pass H. 3047 out of committee so it can be voted on by the entire House.

Contact the following South Carolina House members, as well as your Representative, and let them know that open government is a principle worth fighting for.

Subcommittee Chair Denny Nielson

Rep. Brian White

Rep. Murrell Smith

Rep. Herb Kirsh

Speaker Bobby Harrell

Chairman Dan Cooper

Majority Leader Kenny Bingham

Update, 4/21/09: The Spending Accountability Act of 2009 passed subcommittee today.  The next step is a hearing before the full House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow (Wednesday, April 22) at 2:30pm.  Contact information for all Ways and Means members is available on the State House Web site, or the following list of email addresses may be copied and pasted into your email client:,,,,,,,,,,, DAL@schouse. org,,,,,,,,,,,,

Update, 4/24/09: The meeting this week in which the Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to address the Spending Accountability Act was canceled.  A new meeting of the full Committee has not been announced, and Rep. Nikki Haley is calling the cancellation a “major setback.” The Committee may fail to review the bill before the House adjourns for the year.

Please, melt the phones and flood the Ways and Means Committee members with emails.  Let them know that voters expect H.3047 to pass during the current session.

New Film Will Out Gay Republicans

If a straight conservative outed a group of gay liberal politicians for any reason at all, the outrage would be palpable.  And rightly so.

Funny how a different standard applies when straight liberal filmmaker Kirby Dick announces his intention to out gay Republican politicos.  His new documentary film is called Outrage, and its tagline is “A searing exposé of the secret lives of closeted gay politicians.”

From indieWIRE :

The new film examines the double lives of a number of current political figures, mostly Republican men, who have masked their homosexuality through marriage to women and by actively working against the gay community. It explores the stories of politicians who, through their policies and voting records, actively bash gay people in order to prove they themselves are not gay. And it details a media establishment that keeps their secrets. The lives of former elected officals (and even some mainstream media figures) are also examined as the film explores the dual lives of public people who have chosen to live in the closet.

Translation: gay politicians who don’t toe the Democratic Party line are fair game to be pilloried as self-loathing hypocrites by an attention whoring documentarian.

You know, there’s a reason some conservatives toss around words like “gaystapo.”

Dick, a self-anointed hunter-in-chief of gay conservatives, believes that exposing supposed hypocrisy gives him absolute moral authority to force gay Republicans out of the closet.   But he just calls it good old-fashioned reporting:

“I think that if someone is in the closet and voting against gay rights then that’s hypocrisy and that’s cause for outing,” Dick told indieWIRE, addressing the issue of responsibility and when it’s appropriate to out people. “You can call it ‘outing,’ but honestly, it’s just reporting… It’s the same as someone who’s had an abortion and then votes against abortion, it’s hypocritical.”

The pretense is that outing is the great equalizer.  It is held up as a bold and noble act in defense of gays and lesbians.  In reality, it is petty, vindictive, and yes, often catty.  Dick’s film is just the latest flagrant attempt to silence and disenfranchise gay Americans who don’t kowtow to a liberal agenda.

The mere suggestion that gays are not an ideological monolith is a threat to the liberal narrative.  Liberal gay activists would have you believe that political and sexual identity are inextricably linked, that physical attraction somehow dictates whether one believes in gay marriage or hate speech legislation.  Outing is the go-to punishment for betrayal of that narrative.

Publicly exposing the sexual orientation of gay Republican congressmen is, of course, a poor strategy for achieving pretty much anything other than schadenfreude.  Most conservatives are indifferent to what goes on in the private bedrooms of public officials so long as all participants are consenting adults.

A representative from Magnolia Pictures, the distributor for Outrage, told indieWIRE the film “could be a ‘game changer’ for same sex civil rights.”  They would be hard pressed to come up with a more shallow, tone deaf analysis than that.  Smugly celebrating the discomfort of newly outed Republicans won’t help same sex marriage advocates make friends and influence people.  At worst, Kirby Dick’s misguided crusade may actually strengthen the resolve of the conservatives who believe that the liberal gay agenda threatens their way of life.

Hat Tip: Hot Air Headlines

Update: Good timing: GayPatriot annouces the upcoming launch of GOProud, a gay conservative organization.  Unlike the Log Cabin Republicans, you can expect this new 527 to adequately address issues like the outing of gay Republicans.  Also just popping up in my feed reader, Dan Blatt takes on Kirby Dick’s use of hypocrisy to justify the outing of gay Republicans.

Another update: Predictably, the bashing of GOProud has begun, with pages ripped right from the usual liberal playbook.  Here’s what’s bouncing around Twitter right now:

GOProud Slogan: We’re like the Log Cabin Republicans — but with 100% MORE self-loathing!

Fifty bucks says the terms self-loathing or self-hating appear more than once in Kirby Dick’s film.

Choice For Me, But Not For Thee

Health care provider conscience laws began to appear on the federal books shortly after the United States Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade in 1973.  These statutory provisions protect health care professionals from discrimination if they refuse to participate in abortion and sterilization services on the basis of religious or moral objections.

In 2008, the Bush administration issued a rule strengthening the requirements for compliance with the conscience protections set forth in the Public Health Service Act, the Church Amendments, and the Weldon Amendment.  Widely criticized as a nose-thumbing anti-abortion swan song for President Bush, the eleventh hour ruling was actually in the works for most of 2008.

Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services at the time, pushed for the regulation in response to a move by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) to require pro-life physicians to provide abortion referrals as a condition of board certification.  Concerned that the ACOG and ABOG policies violated freedom of conscience and non-discrimination laws, HHS issued the final interpretive rule in December 2008.

The new administration moved swiftly to begin the rescission process when President Obama took office.  But, as Tabitha Hale points out, while the interpretation of conscience laws may change significantly under the Obama administration, it is highly unlikely that pro-life doctors will be forced to perform abortions any time soon.

And that just doesn’t sit well with Jacob Appel.  He’s a storytelling bioethicist with a fever, and the only cure is more abortionists.

You may remember Jacob Appel from his recent call for an abortion pride movement.  His latest lament is that the number of abortion providers has steadily decreased, and yet pro-life medical practitioners are still permitted to take up valuable slots in OB/GYN training programs.  He proposes that medical programs help abortion providers increase their ranks by using a pro-choice litmus test to screen OB/GYN residency applicants.

Using religious and moral objections to abortion to bar qualified doctors from receiving training in obstetrics and gynecology is a clear violation of conscience protection laws, but Appel has an answer for that.

In the case of abortion, the current shortage of providers justifies a limited waiver of conscience exemptions as applied to the training of new OBGYNs.  If we do not act, women may find themselves in a position similar to that of the criminal defendant who in theory has the legal right to counsel, but cannot find any lawyer willing to take her case.

Appel does not bother to address why a doctor who intends to specialize in geriatric gynecology, for example, would need to perform abortions.   He also neglects to consider that pro-life doctors are not the only ones who refuse to terminate pregnancies. Indeed, there are many pro-choice physicians who are just as unwilling to provide abortion services.

But the greatest flaw in Appel’s argument is his contention that he is a champion of patient choice and access.  Appel is only interested in ensuring choice and access for women seeking abortion doctors, not for women seeking doctors who respect their beliefs because they share them.

A woman should be able to choose a doctor whose moral compass points in the same direction as hers. Families should know that their doctor shares their values and will remain faithful to them, especially in a life or death situation.  Revoking conscience protections would revoke patient choice, a violation that would offend more pro-choice liberals if they were, at the very least, concerned with being consistent.

Most liberal feminists would balk at receiving gynecological care from a dedicated pro-lifer.  Shouldn’t pro-life women be able to choose a doctor who doesn’t engage in professional practices they find morally objectionable?

Appel’s essay is not a harmless, isolated intellectual exercise.  His views are shared by many of the liberal feminist chatterati, including some in the medical community.

Dr. Julie Cantor, for instance, feels conscientious objection in medicine has gone awry, and that we, as a society, are far too tolerant of individual conscience.  Like Appel, she believes that “physicians and other health care providers have an obligation to choose specialties that are not moral minefields for them. Qualms about abortion, sterilization, and birth control? Do not practice women’s health.”  She feigns passionate support for putting patients’ interests first, but not so shockingly, that support does not extend to choosing a doctor one doesn’t consider an agent of death.

A doctor’s conscientious refusal to perform an abortion does not strip a patient of her constitutionally protected right to seek an abortion, not even if she has to get an advance on her paycheck and shimmy across the frozen tundra on her pregnant belly to reach the closest abortion provider.  The government is not your mom, your BFF, and your knight in shining armor all rolled into one convenient, omnipresent package.

There is, without a doubt, a demand for abortion providers in America.  There is also a demand for doctors whose work is informed by a pro-life perspective on abortion, contraception, sterilization, and end-of-life decisions.  It is not the government’s role to decide that one of these categories of professionals should be phased out because it is less valuable than the other.

When did it become acceptable to ask the government to facilitate the subordination of a pro-life patient’s dignity to a pro-choice patient’s dignity?