One of the great "chain" e-mails which made the Internet rounds a few years ago parodied the Department of Agriculture's buying guidelines for cabbage by comparing its word count (roughly 26,000) to some other well known writings throughout history.
For example, the Declaration of Independence is just over 1,300 words, the Gettysburg Address is 278, while the Lord's Prayer, by comparison, come in at a miniscule 71 words.
Therefore, you can imagine the fun one could have skewering the Internal Revenue Code, which, for those with enough grit to read from cover to cover, is 1.4 million words.
And I can't begin to put that into comparison with anything that I'm even remotely familiar with. It would probably make even Tolstoy blush.
To no one's surprise, the complexity and general overkill of the tax code were cited as the most serious problems facing taxpayers in a recent report released by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.
Olson's report conveniently coincides with President Bush's appointment of a nine-member bipartisan tax reform panel led by former senators Connie Mack III and John Breaux, who are charged with making the tax code "simpler, fairer and more pro-growth."
The taxpayer advocate stated, "The only meaningful way to reduce these compliance burdens is to simplify the tax code enormously."
And hopefully in the process make it a little less verbose.
Contained within those million-plus words are myriad problems, such as the controversial alternative minimum tax, which she described as the "proverbial elephant in the room," and for the third consecutive year called for its repeal.
Other issues in the report's crosshairs include the earned income tax credit and a host of provisions initially designed to encourage taxpayers to save for such things as education and retirement.
But it wasn't all negative.
Olson praised the IRS for making notable progress in improving the quality and clarity of its letters and notices and its toll-free phone service.
And while there is a strong probability that tax reform during the second Bush administration could be tabled until 2006 in favor of first overhauling Social Security, as well as implementing tort reform, the reform panel will, as ordered, make recommendations toward streamlining the current IRC and forward them to Treasury Secretary John Snow, who, in turn, will forward them to his boss at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In any event, a final version of the IRC, in whatever form it may assume, will probably never be as tight as the Declaration of Independence.
But even to pare it down to a USDA-sized purchasing document would be a step -- no, make that a leap -- in the right direction.
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