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Happy official 100th birthday federal income tax

Are you already as fed up as I am with the federal government shutdown and continuing bickering and politicking by Congress and the White House? Then let's get in a better mood with a party!

100th_Birthday_CakeHappy 100th birthday, U.S. federal income tax!

Wait, say careful readers, didn't we just toss confetti and cut cake back in February to commemorate 100 years of the tax code as we know it?

Yes. But Feb. 3, 1913, was the day that Delaware lawmakers approved the 16th Amendment, giving it the necessary 36 state approvals to become constitutionally legal.

It was eight months later, on Oct. 3, 1913, that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the legislation creating the tax code that we now know. 

1913 income tax rates, brackets
(with 2013 inflation adjustments) Exonomix table of income tax 1913 and 2013 (2)
NYT Economix blog via IRS/BLS data

Tax rates, income brackets 2013: Today we again have seven income tax rates, ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent.

That 39.6 percent top tax rate for the 2013 tax year applies to earnings of more than $400,000 for single taxpayers; $425,000 for head-of-household filers; $450,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly; and $225,000 for married couples who file separate returns.

The rates will stay the same next year, but because of inflation, the taxable income brackets will widen a bit in 2014.

Earlier income taxes: Tax history students know that the 1913 measure was not the United States' first income tax.

Collection of taxes from Americans' earnings first appeared when the Revenue Act of 1861 became law. That measure, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, called for a 3 percent of all incomes over $800. The money was used to help finance the Civil War.

Bruce Bartlett, a policy adviser in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, takes a closer look at the tax code's 100th birthday in today's New York Times' Economix column.

You also can peruse income tax rates and brackets from 1913 through 2013 courtesy the Tax Foundation and check out the Internal Revenue Service's brief history of the tax agency's existence and other historical tax highlights.

More tax reform? The last major overhaul of the Internal Revenue Code was more than a quarter century ago with the enactment of the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986. As a tax geek, I was thrilled to be working for a Ways and Means committee member back then.

There's hope that our tax system will be revamped again in the near future. This summer, the members of Congress who head the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees were optimistic that they and their colleagues could find ways to make the system simpler.

Such efforts, however, have been placed on a very back burner as the House and Senate variously fan the flames of or try to put out the budget fight fire that has closed federal facilities nationwide.

Once we get past this fiscal crisis (and the looming debt ceiling replay that we witnessed in 2011), maybe lawmakers will focus on tax reform.

Let's save them a piece of tax code birthday cake to celebrate that moment.

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