Once again Congress has amazed me in how it handles tax legislation. It should come as no surprise because I have been reporting on tax legislation for over 30 years, but Congress still makes it much more difficult for taxpayers, practitioners, and tax prep software providers than it has to be. Congress, rather than passing the “Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006” just before it adjourned last week, could have done so at the beginning of 2006. But in reported attempts to pass other unrelated legislation, the tax provisions supported by both sides of the aisle were tacked onto controversial legislation. When those proved unsuccessful, the tax provisions eventually were separated from any controversial legislation and the “Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006” was passed last week. Here is explanation of the ramifications of the delay by Senator Baucus on the floor of the Senate: “Congress's delay in extending these tax provisions caused uncertainty. And the delay until now will have real consequences for taxpayers. Just this week, I received a report of the contingency plan at the IRS for the 2007 filing season. The IRS identified about 60 tax forms and products that will be affected by this delay. “The Form 1040 has already gone to the printer. That happened back in November. More than 120 million taxpayers use that form. The IRS will not reprint those forms. “The IRS expects taxpayer confusion. The IRS expects more phone calls to the IRS with questions. The IRS expects delays in filing. The IRS expects incorrect returns. And the IRS expects more amended returns. “Further, the IRS will need at least six weeks to reprogram its systems to accommodate the changes. It is simply too late for the IRS to implement the 2007 filing season on time. This means delays in starting to process and issue refunds. And it means money. It may cost the IRS millions in additional costs because of our delay. And the cost to taxpayers could be even greater. “In September, I brought a display of the draft Form 1040 for next year. Already, the classroom teachers' deduction and the college tuition deduction were gone. Millions of families that normally take those deductions, and other popular incentives like the state sales tax deduction, will wonder why those lines no longer appear on the Form 1040. And, unless taxpayers are willing to get on the Internet and search, they may never know that we extended these incentives in the nick of time.” Tax prep software providers will face similar problems in rushing modifications to the programs for the 2006 tax year. This reminded me of tax legislation that came down many years ago right after Christmas. Tax practitioners had only to end of the year to advise some of their clients of what to do to take advantage of a tax benefit added by the legislation. This time of the year is hard enough for those with a vested interest in the tax season, whether it be the IRS, tax practitioners, tax prep software providers, or taxpayers, Congress seems to have no qualms about making it more difficult, expensive, and frustrating for those interested parties or adding greatly to the possibility that taxpayers will not take advantages of tax benefits because they aren’t listed on tax returns where they are supposed to be and could easily have been put. Will Congress act any differently in the future? I think you know my answer based on 30-plus years of observation.

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