, Newburyport, MA


May 25, 2013

Column: Let's drain the swamp that harbors the IRS alligators


The IRS commissioner had been long-scheduled to address a South Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast but happened to be there the day after the Tax Reform Act details were announced. I was a guest in an unexpectedly crowded room, as reporters from around the nation converged on Quincy to ask questions about the tax changes. Because the changes were revenue-neutral, and part of a larger program to downsize Big Government, opponents were in typical attack mode.

CLT activists had gone through the same intense opposition during the 1980 Proposition 21/2 campaign. Our researcher, Joni Lane, now of Gloucester, had given me a plaque that said, “When you are up to your ass in alligators, remember that your purpose in being there is to drain the swamp.”

I wrote that message on an index card and gave it to one of the IRS agents who had accompanied Commissioner Egger, asking him to pass it on. He smiled and put it in his pocket.

Two months later I was reading an article about the tax reform battle in Time Magazine: President Reagan was quoted saying, “When you are up to your keister in alligators, remember that your purpose in being there is to drain the swamp.”

I’ve happily imagined the agent giving my suggestion to his boss, who gave it to Reagan, who liked it but was too much of a gentleman to quote it exactly.

Well, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 passed and improved things for a while, then they went back to normal complexity, which is why we are hearing arguments for tax simplification and closing loopholes today. IRS managers are no longer working for Ronald Reagan though; now they work for Barack Obama. Grab your keister and run!

First we learned that conservative groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, or with a mission to defend the Constitution and make this a better country, had their requests for tax-exempt status held up for as long as three years, past the 2010 and 2012 elections. As Congress began holding hearings, we learned about the IRS auditing Romney contributors.

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