Budget cuts Feed

Let me make this very clear from the get-go. I never, ever, ever recommend that anyone cheat on his or her taxes. But if you're inclined to be a bit aggressive with your Form 1040 strategies, your odds of catching a tax examiner's eye are decreasing. The Internal Revenue Service's audit rate has been dropping for years and that trend likely will continue, due in part to more agency funding cuts in the latest federal budget proposal. Fewer audits yet again: Recently released IRS data shows that in 2016 the number of individual audits dropped for the fifth straight year.... Read more →


Uncle Sam runs out of money on Oct. 1, but a group of Democratic Senators is hopeful that lawmakers will eventually get their funding act together. They even are enlisting the help of U.S. Treasury Jack Lew in providing sufficient money for the Internal Revenue Service to do its job in the coming fiscal year. In a letter to the Treasury chief, Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein of California, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio denounce "shortsighted budget cuts" as the reason the IRS has struggled to meet "its objective to... Read more →


I was feeling a bit overwhelmed recently, looking at what was on my to-do list and the time left to do it. Then I saw Congress' schedule and thought, I'm in good shape. The House and Senate are facing a series of deadlines that have much more serious consequences than me getting a story or blog post in at the last minute (please don't tell my editors I said that!). There are four major dates on the remaining 2015 Congressional calendar: October 1 -- The end of 2015 appropriations and the return of sequestration. October 29 -- Expiration of the... Read more →


Capitol Hill is in the throes of contentious budget negotiations. The process is complicated not only by the differing political priorities of Democrats and Republicans, but also the somewhat competing stances of GOP members, some of whom have higher political aspirations. Both sides of the Hill agreed on their fiscal plans in late March. Now they must reconcile the two. With the GOP in control of both chambers, the House and Senate fiscal year 2016 budgets actually are pretty similar. Both want to fast-track a measure that would repeal Obamacare, as well as add more money for defense projects. Balanced... Read more →


U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was on the hot seat today, spending three full hours being grilled by Ways and Means Committee members about the Administration's fiscal year 2016 budget. As is the case in most Capitol Hill hearings, members were more interested in making their own political statements than in asking questions and getting answers. That's why some of the budget time was spent on the upcoming Supreme Court decision on premium tax credit help for folks who bought health insurance on the federal exchange. But we did get some actual budget talk, too. Tea Party troubles reviewed: One... Read more →


It's a dual Groundhog Day this year. There's the traditional meteorological news, which, by the way, is bad. Punxsutawney Phil says we're looking at more winter. An apparently sleepy Punxsutawney Phil prepares to make his weather prediction. The final word: Phil saw his shadow, so we're in for six more weeks of winter. Full story and video at Weather Underground. This year, we also get the federal fiscal replay on official Groundhog Day. This is the one where the president issues his annual budget and the members of the opposing political party declare it dead on arrival. Political process replay:... Read more →


Well, well, well. I'm going to pull my crystal ball (yes, that's it pictured there) out of storage and dust it off. It seems like I've got a bit of my predictive mojo back. That hasn't been the case very much in recent years, at least not where the U.S. Congress is involved. Remember the estate tax? Nobody, including me, thought those fools lawmakers would let it expire at the end of 2009. But they did. And they took us over the fiscal cliff, albeit only for a couple of days. Still, logical people, who are most folks who don't... Read more →


Congress obviously didn't read the 2014 Taxpayer Attitude Survey before passing the $1.1 trillion fiscal year spending bill this weekend. The latest annual look by the Taxpayer Oversight Board at what we think of our tax system found that the majority of taxpayers support more funding for Internal Revenue Service services and enforcement. Sixty-one percent say the IRS should receive extra funding to assist more taxpayers, up two points from 2013. Another 56 percent say the IRS should receive extra funding to enforce tax laws, up one point from 2013. The House on Dec. 11 and Senate late Dec. 13... Read more →


Sen. Tom Coburn, the Republican who's served Oklahomans in Congress' upper chamber since 2005 and for six years in the House before that, is retiring as soon as this lame duck session wraps. Many see Coburn as an obstructionist, especially when it comes to considering budget bills, and are happy to see him go. Others, however, think he's done a fine job crusading against irresponsible government spending. In fact, Coburn will be remembered for the issuance of his so-called Wastebooks, reports on ways his Capitol Hill colleagues waste U.S. taxpayer money. As his parting gift to U.S. taxpayers and his... Read more →


It looks like Rep. Paul Ryan is shelving national political ambitions for a while to take over the House Ways and Means committee. Ryan will assume the chairmanship of the powerful tax-writing panel on Jan. 3, 2015 when the 114th Congress convenes. He takes the gavel from W&M Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who is retiring at the end of the current congressional session. Ryan, Republican Representative for the first district of Wisconsin since 1999, announced his desire for the top tax post on Nov. 4. Click image to see interview clip via Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) on Twitter "It is... Read more →


The only constant in life is change. That's also the case with taxes. Just ask anyone/everyone who's ever had to deal with new laws. Now big change is coming to the House panel charged with originating all U.S. tax measures. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) announced Monday, March 31, that he will not seek reelection. That, along with the 2015 Republican budget proposal, likely means that there won't be any major changes to the tax code any time soon. Already planning to go: Camp already was set to relinquish his chairmanship of the tax-writing panel. But given his... Read more →


Maybe the National Taxpayer Advocate's recommendations came too late in the budgeting process. Or maybe members of Congress just like whacking the most hated federal agency with a fiscal bludgeon. Whatever the reason, the Internal Revenue Service is going to have to make do with less money in fiscal year 2014 under the omnibus budget bill worked out this week on Capitol Hill. UPDATE: The House passed the spending bill Wednesday, Jan. 15, afternoon by a bipartisan 359-to-67 margin. It now awaits Senate action. And that means all of us taxpayers will probably suffer at least a little bit this... Read more →


I'm a big believer in you get what you pay for. Apparently, so is National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Olson this week released her annual report to Congress. In the yearly analysis, the Internal Revenue Service's internal watchdog details at least 20 of the biggest problems that taxpayers face. For 2013, Olson enumerated 25 taxpayer troubles. And she put the inability to get good service from the IRS near the top of her latest list. One of the most frustrating taxpayer-IRS interactions is telephone service. Folks seeking answers via phone are getting worse service now. And why is there such... Read more →


For the last few days of September and the first 16 days of October, much of the attention was on one Representative and one Senator. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led a fight to defund Obamacare and egged on House Republicans to do the same, leading in large part to the government shutdown. That made things difficult for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as he tried to bring the opposing factions of his party together. However, now that a deal has been reached to reopen federal facilities, the focus has shifted to 29 members of Congress. They are the bipartisan group... Read more →


Benjamin Franklin's famously noted that there are only two sure things: death and taxes. I'd like to add a third: Congressional Groundhog Day. Yes, our Representatives and Senators, at least this current crop, seem to like doing the same thing in the same way over and over and over. I am talking, of course, about lawmakers' penchant for walking to the brink of financial and tax disaster and peering over the edge. Sorry history of fiscal brinksmanship: We had it with the debt ceiling fight during the summer of 2011. That led to the 2012-2013 fiscal cliff, which we briefly... Read more →


Tell Congress what you think as brazenly as you wish

There's a lot of talk about the Beltway Bubble, the phenomenon where the nation's capital exists in an atmosphere insulated from the real lives the rest of us lead. One Representative, however, recently tried to burst it. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) saw the latest surveys revealing that public approval of Congress has plummeted to its lowest level ever and he wanted to make sure his House colleagues knew about the lack of esteem in which they are held. Grayson attempted to use a special House rule that allows members to address harms to the "dignity" of the House. Yes, I... Read more →


What do we like more than Congress. Apparently, just about everything. But there is a silver lining to our disgust with Representatives and Senators. It might finally force federal lawmakers to rethink their so-called governing strategies. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders have put together a proposal to extend for six weeks the debt ceiling, which is the maximum amount the United States can borrow to pay already incurred bills. They've met with President Obama, who reportedly said he would make a deal, but only if it also went beyond the debt ceiling and cleared the way... Read more →


A lot of attention has been paid, rightfully, to the federal workers who are on furlough or working for free until Capitol Hill agrees on a fiscal 2014 budget. Among those sitting out the political stalemate are around 86,000 Internal Revenue Service rank and file workers. But as the shutdown approached, there also were some changes -- or not -- at the IRS' executive level. Werfel remains, for a while: First, the top guy's status. Daniel Werfel stepped in as Acting IRS Commissioner (his title was tweaked for administrative reasons in June) after word broke, and Congressional hearings began, on... Read more →


Nearly 800,000 federal employees are off their jobs. Those who are still working won't get actual money when their paydays arrive. They are working on a promise (also made to furloughed workers by a House vote Saturday afternoon) that they'll get what they are owed when Congress finally agrees on a budget plan for the 2014 fiscal year. Some agencies are offering their working-for-free employees a form letter explaining the financial situation that workers can show or send to creditors in lieu of the money they don't have. That might convince the electric or phone companies not to cut off... Read more →


'Essential' Representatives, Senators get paid during shutdown

Right now, most Americans -- and especially those furloughed federal workers sitting at home a second straight day -- don't consider Representatives and Senators essential. That's the designation made by federal agencies about their various jobs to determine who comes to work during a government shutdown. Employees in essential jobs are at their desks, with at least the hope of eventually getting paid when the government comes back online. Holders of nonessential positions are furloughed. And despite what some members of Congress have said, being furloughed is not the same as a paid vacation day for federal workers. It means... Read more →