Tax Day is upon us and millions of Americans are scrambling to file tax returns, download expensive versions of TurboTax, line up at H & R Block – and be sure there must be a better way and cheaper.
There are: The IRS could create a free electronic portal allowing Americans to file quickly and easily. We could eliminate the middleman, save taxpayers' money, and move on to the first beautiful spring weekend away from a shabby mall.
Only one member of the Massachusetts Congress is eager to end this dream – permanently.
Representative Richard Neal chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, the largest tax drafting committee for the entire Congress. Last week, Neal's committee, with its full support, proposed a bill that would prohibit the IRS from creating its own electronic program as part of a bill called, believe it or not, the taxpayer's law.
Whenever something crazy happens in Washington, it's a good idea to follow that money. It turns out that the main opponents of the free federal filing system are, you guessed it, H & R Block and Intuit, the makers of TurboTax. Such a system could jeopardize the profits of both companies. They have therefore been lobbying Congress aggressively for many years to make it illegal for the IRS to offer one.
The industry has supported this lobbying with $ 6.6 million in campaign cash over the last year alone. Intuit and H & R Block donated $ 16,000 to Neal over the last two cycles of the campaign.
When Neal took the hammer of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, many longtime observers of the careerist, the first Democrat, wondered what kind of president he would be. The congressman has always been one of the major recipients of corporate money in US dollars for the CAP. Neal dragged on his feet for months before finally asking for President Trump's tax returns, fueling speculation that he was indifferent to the exploration of complicated tax code abuses by the rich. (He also hypocritically refused to publish his own statements.)
At the height of his career, would he use his power to make things easier for taxpayers? Or to reward lobbyists and companies that have followed suit? It did not take long to get the answer. Richard Neal could help us all to file our taxes. Instead, he opted for TurboTax and H & R Block.
All of this works well for Neal, but less for taxpayers. This is a perfect example of what happens when a congressman is captured by the Washington Marsh and serves special interests rather than the public interest. Neal makes the TurboTax auction. Meanwhile, the millions he gains from lobbyists isolate him from a challenge at home and provide him with no way to hold him accountable. When a Progressive contested Neal in 2018, he drowned her with more than $ 3.2 million in campaign spending, well over $ 3 million more than her opponent had collected. He was re-elected. All others are stranded to spend their Saturday at H & R Block.
Neal has also long supported a free, industry-sponsored tax return system widely criticized for its inefficiency and piracy. Some 70% of US taxpayers could use it for free, but only 3% do so, in part because, according to ProPublica, the sector has "deliberately under-encouraged" while trying to confuse the spirit of those who buy paid products. This is the kind of compromise that occurs when members of Congress who are supposed to oversee an industry on behalf of us all are captured by it.
Many other countries offer a simple electronic option that allows citizens to save money. In more than 30 countries, such as Great Britain and Japan, there is absolutely no need to file tax documents with the government. A chair of the Ways and Means Committee who wanted to simplify the process and actually put the "taxpayer in the forefront" would have that power. But the more complicated the process, the more we all need H & R Block. Contributions to the campaign outweigh common sense and public good.
If you're spending this weekend looking at TurboTax or under H & R Block's hectic fluorescent lamps, take a moment to remember why you're not out there: Richard Neal is looking for TurboTax and no to you.