WHAT IS THE REAL SIZE
OF THE U.S. FEDERAL TAX CODE
HOW HAS THIS CODE BEEN EVOLVING?
This is the second in a series of comments made by Andy Sundberg, Fellow and secretary, the Overseas American Academny, Geneva, Switzerland, 12 February 2012. He may be reached at andy at sunberg dot com.
To see the first post regarding the past 50 year history of Citizenship taxation abuse go here.
According to the CCH Standard Tax Reporter, the U.S. tax code began with about 400 pages in 1913. Twenty-six years later there were still only 504 pages, but then it exploded to 8,200 pages by 1945.
It got to over 60,000 pages before the end of the first term of President George W. Bush, and it has now reached over 72,500 pages by the end of the third year of President Barack Obama’s current term of office.
The exact total is now apparently at least 72, 536 pages as of this message.
HOW BIG DO MEMBERS OF
CONGRESS THINK THE TAX CODE REALLY IS?
Every year about this tax filing time—give or take an extension—most of us can look forward to spending some quality time with a pile of tax forms and instructions.
If it helps, you could think of your US federal income taxes as being like one of the story problems you may have enjoyed back in high school math class…a particularly long story problem.
If you’re not one of the three people in your high school who actually did enjoy story problems, this might not be any great comfort, but either way, it does lead one to wonder, “just how long is it?” You wouldn’t be the only one wondering.
The length of the federal income tax code (also known as “Title 26” of the United States Code) has itself been the subject of more than a few political speeches by our own Congressional representatives, theoretically the very people responsible for the illustrious Title 26.
They had this to say during the last few years about the prodigious size of the US Tax Code.
(Note that all of the following quotes were extracted from the representatives’ official press releases and statements as found on www.house.gov)
U.S. Representative John Hostettler (R-IN) – “the Internal Revenue Code and regulations add up to one million words and is nearly seven times the length of the Bible”
U.S. Representative Rob Portman (R-OH) – “The income tax code and its associated regulations contain almost 5.6 million words — seven times as many words as the Bible. Taxpayers now spend about 5.4 billion hours a year trying to comply with 2,500 pages of tax laws….”
U.S. Representative J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK) – “The heart of IRS abuse lies in the existing tax code. Most of the folks who work for the IRS are good people just trying to do their job, but they are caught in a bad, overextended tax system. At 3,458 pages, twice the length of the Bible, it’s impossible for the average taxpayer to know, understand, and accurately apply its provisions. The length is twice that of the Bible! Even tax experts cannot do so reliably.”
U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) – “With its 6,000 pages and 500 million words, the complexity of our tax code is the prime source of frustration and anger felt by millions of Americans toward their government.”
U.S. Representative Bill Archer (R-TX) – “The Internal Revenue Code and regulations now come in at one million words and 9000 pages.”
U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) – “The Bible, the guide of our lives, is 1,291 pages and contains 774,746 words. But the Tax Code and its regulations which are referred to by some as, ‘a person’s worst nightmare come true’ is 9,471 pages and over 7 million words.”
U.S. Representative Vito Fossella (R-NY) – “the tax code runs 17,000 pages and contains a mind-boggling 5.5 million words. By way of comparison, War and Peace is only 1,444 pages and the Bible checks in at 1,291 pages.”
U.S. Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC) – “The federal tax code with its 44,000 pages, 5.5 million words, and 721 different forms is a patchwork maze of complexity and a testament to confusion over common sense.”
U.S. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) – “The IRS tax code is 44,000 pages and growing”
U.S. Representative Bobby Jindal (R-LA) – “The current tax code is almost 60,000 pages, longer than the Bible”
U.S. Representative Dave Hobson (R-OH) – “the current tax code, which at 1.3 million pages is twice the length of Tolstoy’s War and Peace”
U.S. Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) – “the federal tax code has about four times as many words as the bible. Accompanying the law are a staggering two-and-a-half million pages of regulations”
President George W. Bush (courtesy of Professor Paul Caron of the TaxProf Blog) – “The tax code is a complicated mess. You realize, it’s a million pages long.”
So, depending on whom you ask, our elected representatives are of the opinion that this particular section of the United States Code is somewhere between 2,500 and 2,500,000 pages long. But one thing they do know for sure, at least if they’re members of the Republican Party, is that the US tax code is longer than the Bible. Personally, I think the only way we’re ever going to see that reversed is if Congress decides to enact its own official version of the Bible. If that happens, all bets are off.
By the way, if you go to the US Government Printing Office (www.gpo.gov), you can order a complete set of Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations (that’s the part written by the IRS), all twenty volumes of it, at the bargain price of $974, shipping included. According to the US Government Printing Office, it’s 13,458 pages in total. The full text of Title 26 of the United States Code (the part written by Congress–available for an additional $179) is a mere 3,387 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross page count to 16,845. The number of words has been left as an exercise for the student.
WHAT HAVE SOME MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
AND OTHERS THOUGHT ABOUT
RENUNCIATION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP
Senator Jacob Collamer (Rep, Vt.), 1862 – “If a man draws his income from our public debt, or from property here, and resides in Paris, skulking away from contributing his personal support to the Government in this day of its extremity, he ought to pay a higher income tax.”
Senator George Hoar (Rep, Mass. ), 1894 – “[The point of citizenship-based taxation is so that] if an American citizen went abroad and carried the protection of his country, of his citizenship with him, he did not escape its burdens… There are a great many people, I am sorry to say, who go abroad for that very purpose, and some of them went abroad during the late [Civil W]ar. They lived in luxury, at the same time at less cost, in a foreign capital; they had none of the voluntary obligations which rest upon citizens, of charity, or contributions, or supporting churches, or anything of that sort, and they escaped taxation.”
Sen. Edward Kennedy ( Dem , Mass. ), 1994 – “The renunciation of one’s citizenship is deplorable, but it is a right that we respect. But the renunciation of citizenship by individuals so that they do not have to pay their fair share of taxes is wholly unacceptable. It is sufficiently compelling to generate a resounding vote.”
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (Dem, Haw.), 1995 – “[These are] Benedict Arnolds who would sell out their citizenship, sell out their country in order to maintain their wealth. Jet setters who are able to… enjoy the full benefits of all the wealth that they have accumulated in the United States of America as citizens, and renounce.”
“This proposal is not designed to prevent Americans from shifting their assets and citizenship to another country. If it was my instruction, it would. Why should I give two hoots about somebody that wants to give up their U.S. citizenship and shift their income to another country…?
It has been brought up about double taxation. I say, ‘You can triple or quadruple tax them as far as I’m concerned, run it up to a hundred percent if they want to give up their citizenship because they don’t want to pay their taxes.’
How can you say that we should all do our share in America, including making all the kids, and the elderly people, and everybody else, have to contribute to the deficit, to bring it down, and at the same time allow these sleazy bums, who don’t want to pay their taxes, to leave this country, and renounce their citizenship, and expect me to have one iota of sympathy for them.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Dem, Conn.), 1995 – “The superwealthy who make their fortunes in this country and then renounce their citizenship to avoid paying taxes, in my view, have betrayed the United States and it is time to end special favors to these billionaire tax evaders and make the super-rich pay their fair share… They made a fortune in this country by the sweat of working people [and then] take that money offshore and use it for their own purposes; for what they want to do and not to increase the economic viability of the United States .”
Rep. Sam Gibbons (Dem, Fl.), 1995 – “[T]hese [are] wealthy individuals [who] have engaged in the despicable act of renouncing their allegiance to the United States [due to the supposedly] punitive levels of taxation in this country… Their argument that our taxes are at punitive levels is totally false. The United States has one of the lowest tax burdens of all industrialized nations in the world. It is true that our rates exceed those provided by the tax havens to which these wealthy people are fleeing. However, those individuals can reside safely in those havens only by reason of the defense expenditures of this country which enable wealthy expatriates to live safely anywhere in the world… They condemn as class warfare our attempt to make a handful or two of the wealthiest of the wealthy bear the same burden of tax as all the rest of us.”
Leslie Samuels, Assistant Secretary for tax policy, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1995 – “If you’ve gotten your riches from America , you should pay your fair share of taxes. These expatriates are really like economic Benedict Arnolds.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (Dem, NY), 1995 – “I hope that one day we will just publish the names of people that America has given so much to and that they care so little about that citizenship that they would flee in order to avoid taxes.”
Rep. Martin Frost ( Dem , Tex. ), 1996 – “No one in my family, no matter how much money they made, would have ever renounced their American citizenship. We’re talking about basic patriotism and basic fairness.”
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Dem, Texas), 2000 – “Some Americans have grown so prosperous that they can afford the arrogance of renouncing their citizenship and discovering one day that the Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda is their hometown, that they have new citizenship. This expatriotism problem represents a multi-billion dollar scandal of people renouncing their citizenship for the sole purpose of dodging taxes.”
Here are the web sites for this information:
By contrast, and not that it really means much, the Canadian Income Tax Act, including regulations, is 2,072 pages.
@Roy You’re welcome. But I just call your attention that the more illustrious Just Me provided this blog post. Cheers, Petros
@ Just me. Good post! It is no wonder that the National Taxpayer Advocate is so critical of the asymmetrical compliance burden placed on US taxpayers residing abroad!
It is stunning when you look at it as books on a shelf!
Andy did a good job pulling this information together. And to think, somewhere inside these volumes, on maybe page 36,345 is a non willful penalty with your name on it due to your failure to comply. Any day the IRS might pull that book from the shelf, and say…”Hey, let’s use this!”
And if all those volumes from “title 26” aren’t enough then…
“does anyone want to hand us a volume from Title 31? Maybe we can find something to use there. Oh, here it is… FBAR. That should work!”
Come back to this country, we need someone like you to make it better!
I am afraid, all smart folks have left — leave those nuts to run this country.
Lloyd Doggett may have shifted his position somewhat and last I heard was calling for more internationally “competitive” tax system. He “might” be someone to contact. I think I saw an interview not too long ago that the admitted he had only been really studying how other countries tax system work in the past few years.
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And here come some more pages from Mr. Tax Code Complexity and Unintended Consequences himself, Carl Levn. This man is the one responsible for FATCA, so given that track record, what would this do that we have no idea of…??
@Just Me: “…what would this do that we have no idea of…??”
The nice folk at Pepper Hamilton have an idea, and it’s not pretty. It seems Carl Levin is a dangerous loon.
I think your description of Levin is too kind! 🙂 These guys (Senators like him) sit there on their committees with an agenda, and add to complexity with willy nilly changes to the code with sound bites for public consumption that on the surface might sound reasonable. Then buried within the language, tacked onto some other legislation, and whole new tax regime is launched with consequences unforeseen and un-assessed. See FATCA. Then the lobby community kicks in to make an exemption for this, or a credit for that, and before long we have a 50 page circular from the IRS and a new form number to use to add to GEs 57,000 pages of annual tax returns!
Somehow we have to kill this tax code beast and keep it from self regeneration.
Yet another example of how we arrive at such complex tax law…
At the time of record deficits some of our Congressmen seek to increase the deficit by introducing legislation allowing deductions for pets. “H.R. 3501, was introduced as the “Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years” (HAPPY Act) and would allow deductions of up to $3,500 a year for pet expenses. It was introduced by Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado .” Robert W. Wood, Forbes.com, 4-2-12.
My question is : Who are the 13% of Americans who approve of the way Congress is doing its job?
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Here is the link to try scrolling to the bottom of.
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“Neal Abercrombie: enjoy the full benefits of all the wealth that they have accumulated in the United States of America as citizens, and renounce.”
~buzzer~ Unfortunately for this fool, most of the income that was earned by expats were earned outside of the United States, and this dumbass thinks that the income earned by expats should be subject to taxation?
Is there any reason why I shouldn’t think that the United States should be circling the toilet of doom – ripe for the Big Flush?