This post comes from Anne Frank. I agree with the contents and thank Anne Frank for taking the time to organize these thoughts.
Practical Solutions Needed
In my view, the election has created a small opening NOW to pursue a pragmatic solution that will resolve MOST but not all of the injustice that FATCA and CBT generally have wreaked upon US Persons outside the United States and their families. What is needed is (i) a VERY SIMPLE and SUCCINCT summary of why this is an injustice that can be grasped by any voter in a coffee shop with the attention span of a four year old; (ii) a SIMPLE and CLEAN proposal to make the problem go away; and (iii) a Congressman or woman with the courage to take it on.
There is an opening in my view because a) the Republicans control both houses; b) the Republicans have apparently embraced repeal of FATCA and CBT as bad policies; c) Democrats Abroad at least have recognized most of the injustices US law perpetrates upon its diaspora and can be expected to endorse at least limited action to address the worst of it if not outright repeal of FATCA; and d) a Congress which has a double majority has some hope of getting a bill passed which – if consistent with principles the Democrats have at least paid lip service to – the President might not veto. FATCA may be bad law, but it sells politically because it targets “FATCAT” tax evaders. We need to let them solve that problem in their own time and in their own way providing they stop with the collateral damage! We all know Congress will have only a short honeymoon period where it has any hope of getting things done, so the best hope of getting something passed is early and not late in the lifetime of the new Congress. The pending Canadian litigation will serve to keep some level of political attention and heat on the issue (I don’t overestimate that factor in the US of course!).
I think our group can collaborate on the simple summary idea. The Democrats Abroad brief is not a bad one and could likely be an appendix to a short summary that highlights a) double taxation that persists despite tax credits and exemptions; and especially b) the ways in which the fines and penalties associated with “death by a thousand forms” subjects US Persons outside the US to discrimination and threats not faced by Homelanders. Real stories of real people will carry 100 times the weight of an academic brief.
What is the simple solution? Well, I tried to put together something as simple as what we put before Parliament when C-31 was being debated. Here is what I came up with (drafted as an amendment to the US Tax Code):
“General (1) For all purposes of this Title 26 and any other statute referring thereto other than Title 8, a person shall neither be considered to be a citizen of the United States nor a U.S. Person if the person would not be considered a resident of the United States (absent the existence of United States citizenship) under the substantial connection test in 26 U.S.C. para. 7701(b)(3) for the particular year nor any of the ten preceding years. This statute shall apply with retroactive effect.
Repeal (2) Title 26, U.S. C. para. 7701(a)(50) is hereby repealed.
Transitional (3) Any person who has filed any return or paid any tax or penalty prior to the coming into force of this statute shall have no claim against the United States government arising from the application of the law prior to the coming into force of this statute. ”
In simple terms, what the amendment to the US Tax Code drafted above seeks to accomplish is to cut the head off the snake. If CBT is the root of all evil, kill as much of it as we can as simply as we can. What I did was go to the source of CBT in the United States Tax Code which is Title 26 in the definitions section (para. 7701). This is where “US Person” is defined to include a citizen or resident. What my amendment would do is simply provide that for purposes of the Tax Code and any other statute that references it (but not the Immigration and Nationality Act which is Title 8), a US citizen is NOT considered a “tax” citizen if you will if they haven’t met the “substantial presence” test for the year in question nor any of the ten preceding years. For someone who left as a child or was born outside the US to US parents, this is a complete waiver. For someone who left as an adult, this limits their “problem years” to the ten years after they left.
The virtue of this is that it does not require the creation of any new tests, definitions or concepts which often involves the law of unintended consequences (and stalls things for a long time while such consequences are studied and debated). Substantial presence has been in the Tax Code for years – it may be a mess, but it’s their mess! Snowbirds need to be wary of it, but occasional visitors do not.
This is not perfect. People who have been out of the country for ten years or more have connections sufficiently tenuous to the US that it will not be hard to explain to Congress and Homeland voters that it is unjust to persecute them. Yes, it does mean that Eduardo Savarin’s of this world will eventually be able to get out of the tax net, but the IRS will still get to torture them for a decade before they get away. They can create new exit taxes for such people if they like. It won’t be hard to do. It does mean that the vast majority of Accidental Americans would simply be out of their net for all purposes and for all time unless they decide to establish themselves in the US.
The law would have retroactive effect (just as the amendments to the citizenship rules did back when they were changed in the 80′s). This would simply make the problem go away for almost everyone. The provision of para. 7701(5) being deleted is the root of “covered expatriate” in the existing statute (citizen for tax purposes until all obligations discharged under s. 877). They are free to come up with a new exit tax for the fat cats who may leave tomorrow if they like,
What I have NOT tried to resolve here is (i) giving citizenship back to those who were effectively forced to renounce; and (ii) refunding money extorted in the past. In a perfect world, a just government would address both of these issues fairly. I strongly suspect that if we try to bite off too much, we may instead get nothing. The perfect can be the enemy of the practical. On balance, I think this remedy is simple enough to explain that it has SOME hope of getting traction if the story behind it is compelling.
That leaves the problem of finding a sponsor. Maybe Rand Paul? Maybe even Ted Cruz? I leave that to others. I confess to having little insight into how this might be done.
My suggestion is that we try to refine these ideas and develop a near perfect “pitch” collaboratively that can be sold to one or more Congress people and let’s see if we can’t actually solve this problem at the source. FATCA will still be bad law imposing lots of expense, but it will effectively only hunt for or disclose US residents with the proverbial Swiss accounts.