WASHINGTON – When it comes to their own tax returns, many members of Congress who specialize in writing tax laws turn to professional preparers rather than completing the paperwork themselves.
“It’s onerous and everybody knows it,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Three of the four top lawmakers on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, which are in charge of writing tax laws, pay a professional to file their annual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.
The exception is the Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., who said he has prepared his own return “forever” and waits until close to the deadline to file. Today is the deadline for most people.
How about one of the tax writers who could become chairman after Thomas retires at year’s end?
“Absolutely not,” said Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La. “I’m not an accountant. I’m a lawyer.”
New York Rep. Charles Rangel, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman and ranking Democrat, depend on expert tax preparers.
According to IRS statistics, that makes these members of Congress much like the public. More than 60 percent of taxpayers turn to a paid professional to prepare their returns.
David Keating, senior counselor at the National Taxpayers Union, said lawmakers should try to complete their own returns. “If they’re going to sit on a tax-writing committee, it certainly makes a lot of sense for them at least to attempt to do their own tax return.”
A few do dive in on their own.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., does them “just so I can go through the process.” Then he has an accountant check for mistakes.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., usually prepares his own taxes using computer software. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, does his tax return and his children’s.
Rep. Kevin Brady’s wife, a former banker, does the returns for the Texas Republican’s family.
These lawmakers have offered ideas to simplify the tax system, but none has gotten close to enactment.
Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., would trade the income tax system for a consumption tax.
A less drastic change is advocated by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He was able to prepare a hypothetical tax return in 30 minutes based on his proposed simplified tax system.