WASHINGTON — The nation's chief tax collector made a rare plea for overhauling the nation's tax laws Wednesday, saying the Internal Revenue Service is eager "to do whatever we can" to help Congress simplify the tax code.
John Koskinen told reporters he's worried that the country could miss out on the best opportunity to reform the tax code since the last major overhaul in 1986.
The IRS commissioner rarely discusses tax policy, which is the purview of his bosses at the Treasury Department. But Koskinen said the IRS needs to be involved in tax reform discussion "to make sure the simplification really is simple."
The two issues most in need of an overhaul, he said, are the taxation of American companies doing business abroad, and the alternative minimum tax, which Koskinen finds "impenetrable."
Koskinen said it's a mistake to try to deal with tax expenditures — as the multitudes of credits, deductions and exemptions are sometimes called — one by one. He likened that approach to fighting a "guerrilla war" with special interests.
"The advantage of doing it all at once is that the lobbyists can't all get in the door at the same time," he said.
But he also acknowledged that the already difficult task of tax reform has been made more difficult by the retirements of its two biggest champions in Congress. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus left to become ambassador to China. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp announced Monday he's not seeking re-election.
Koskinen addressed reporters at the National Press Club on Wednesday, two weeks before the April 15 tax filing deadline. As of Monday, the IRS has received 90 million tax returns and issued more than 73 million refunds, totaling $207 billion, he said.
From the beginning of the filing season, Koskinen has warned taxpayers to expect long wait times when calling or visiting the IRS to seek assistance. But he said the IRS has been doing better than expected: 72% of phone calls are being answered, compared with 60% last year. That's in part because there were fewer tax law changes driving call volumes this year.
However, that's still down from a high of 88% of calls answered. And some taxpayers showing up to Taxpayer Assistance Centers have to wait three hours before getting help, he said.
The IRS has seen its budget cut by $900 million and its workforce has declined by 10,000 employees since 2010. "Ultimately, it's in everyone's best interests to have an IRS that can do its job," Koskinen said.