Consider it a parting gift from U.S. Senator Tom Coburn to American taxpayers.
Sen. Coburn, R-Oklahoma, said he is leaving Congress at the end of the year, but Tuesday he released a 320-page report that could keep his name at the center of tax reform efforts in the nation's capital for a long time to come. The report, entitled ‘Decoding the Tax Code,' is a broadside at the current tax code and its defenders, and is Coburn's final official attempt to advocate for federal tax reform.
In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Coburn said the tax code has become so complicated, more than 9,000 pages in length, that no two accountants would prepare a return the same way. He said reform is a common theme in Washington, but few members of Congress are willing to follow through.
"You hear all sorts of members of Congress say we need to change the tax code," said Sen. Coburn, "but you never hear them say what, specifically, we need to change."
The report was an attempt, Coburn said, to put the tax breaks, deductions and exclusions in layman's terms.
"We wanted people to be able to go to every section of the tax code," said Coburn, "and see here's how much it costs, here's where it's going, here's who's getting it, here's the fraud associated with it."
The report claimed there are more than $900 billion in tax giveaways this year alone. That's more than half of the $1.7 trillion collected in federal income tax.
The report pointed to many examples of people taking advantage of tax loopholes when they are, in theory, those least in need of a tax break. Coburn cited pop star Lady Gaga and her 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt Born This Way Foundation. The report claims the charity raised $2.6 million in 2012, but only gave away $5,000.
Coburn said most of these exemptions in the code are not the fault of the IRS.
"This is members of Congress doing things parochially," said Coburn, "doing things that benefit, either individual members, or individual states, or individual industries, to the benefit of the members of Congress, not necessarily to the benefit of the country as a whole."
The bottom line, Coburn said, is that the tax code is not just complicated, it's unfair. He said the current code should be discarded and Congress should adopt a national sales tax or a flat tax.
Of course, he won't be around to help make that happen. Coburn's last day in office is Jan. 2.