Tax Analysts Blog

The Power of Pain: Do Your Own Damn Taxes

Posted on Feb 21, 2011

Tim Pawlenty thinks members of Congress should be forced to do their own taxes. And people seem to like the idea. "Watching our elected representatives take on the challenge, broken pencils and all, could make for some entertaining moments — a kind of reality TV meets C-Span," observes John Schwartz in the New York Times. Presumably, frustrated lawmakers might also be a little more interested in tax reform and simplification (not the same thing, but we'll leave that for another day.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote an op-ed suggesting that we should all file our own tax returns.

    When it comes to taxes, pain can be a good thing. It keeps people vigilant, encouraging them to keep a wary eye on government. That, in turn, exposes problems and encourages reform. Making taxes easy removes an impetus for Americans to force the government to do something about the tax code.
Pawlenty's suggestion is just a small bore version of the same argument.

Last year, The Hill could find only one lawmaker who did his own returns: Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Presumably, the rest of them sought help from accountants or software programs. Just like the other 89 percent of us.

And if you think that's bad, consider this: until at least 1994, the IRS was offering lawmakers special, VIP help in completing their returns. For decades, the agency opened special tax season assistance centers in House and Senate office buildings.

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