For some time now, the astonishing - and growing - size of the
federal budget surplus has been reverberating around Washington.
The first of the presidential debates has placed it front and center.
Such a phenomenon could have occurred only if the Internal Revenue
Service collected more in taxes than was necessary to fund the items
agreed to between the Congress and the President of the United States.
Anyone who has ever filed a Form 1040 knows the proper designation
for such a state of affairs.
It is called OVERPAYMENT.
On 1999 individual tax returns, Lines 65 through 67 deal with overpayment.
It may be credited against future tax liabilities, or it must be
refunded. The choice is with the taxpayer.
Section 6401 of the Internal Revenue Code addresses the matter
of overpayments. Section 6401 (b)(1) states "If the amount
allowable as credits...exceeds the tax imposed..., the amount of
such excess shall be considered an overpayment."
And Section 6403 states "If the amount already paid...exceeds
the amount determined to be the correct amount of the tax, the overpayment
shall be credited or refunded as provided in Section 6402."
So much for controlling legal authority with regard to overpayments.
As for the authority of Congress to "lay and collect Taxes,"
it rests on Section 8 of Article I. of the U.S. Constitution. The
purpose of taxes is "to pay the Debts and provide for the common
Defence and general Welfare of the United States."
In a sense, our entire national debate centers on the question
of what constitutes the "general Welfare" of the United
States. Over the past decades, opinions have come to encompass every
possible and impossible idea, and some of them require a closer
But first we ought to express righteous indignation at the spectacle
of literally inventing new government programs to use up the spare
cash, instead of executing the law.
The "spare cash" represents an amount by which the people
of this country have been overcharged for goods and services approved
by them in the form of electing certain representatives. If the
monies sent in for those goods and services exceeded the price of
those goods and services, the resulting tax overpayment must be
either credited or refunded. The government of the United States
is an agent of the citizenry, not a business incorporated for profit.
And just imagine if a corporation would attempt to pick and choose
who among their shareholders will receive a distribution of profits.
Yet, apparently, one of our major political parties is of the mind
set to do just that. Vice President Al Gore has declared repeatedly
who does and who does not need to benefit from the windfall. Such
thinking belongs to lands under single-party rule. As a reminder
that America is not such a land, citizens might consider sending
a message right now.
Section 6511 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that "Claim
for credit or refund of an overpayment...shall be filed by the taxpayer
within 3 years from the time the return was filed or 2 years from
the time the tax was paid."
The birth of this Nation had a great deal to do with taxation;
a re-birth of America might be brought about on the same basis.
I propose that every taxpayer file such a claim with the United
States Treasury to place it on the record.
Subsequently, we might forego a portion of the refund due to pay
off the national debt. Such a purpose is specifically provided in
We might also forego another portion of the refund due to shore
up our armed forces, or to construct a missile defense. Again, "common
Defence" is specifically provided in the Constitution.
But the balance must be returned. If calculating cash refunds is
too complicated, we might accept a general reduction of tax rates.
In fairness, it ought to be retroactive; in reality it may not be.
In that case, the reduction of marginal rates must be accompanied
by the promise of a genuine and speedy overhaul of the tax system.
As for items purporting to promote "general Welfare,"
the abuse of that phrase by all three branches of government has
been monumental. After we get our money back - and, get used to
it Mr. Vice President, those who had paid more to begin with will
receive more back - we can hold a national debate about "general
Welfare." Does it mean goods and services that benefit all
of society, or does it mean "social justice," which is
really code for certain people deciding who gets what?
Did the Founding Fathers have the latter in mind when they empowered
Congress to collect taxes and included the phrase "general
"General" is as inclusive a word as the dictionary offers.
Yet the very people who preach "inclusiveness" have taken
it upon themselves to determine whose welfare is to be included,
and whose excluded. They have successfully divided America, and
will continue to do so if we consent.
The first step to restore honesty in government is to change the
designation. "Surplus" perpetuates the perception that,
once elected, our leaders can claim powers denied King George III
when this Nation was born. Calling it "overpayment," on
the other hand, would signal commitment to America's fundamental
principles. The party, the candidate, the campaign that will first
acknowledge the excess cash as a clear case of tax overpayment may
be rewarded with a level of confidence by the electorate neither
party currently enjoys.
Based on what he already said during the debate, for Governor George
W. Bush it would be but one small step.
For America, a giant leap.