The IRS and me

Why do most Americans never react to government scandals, corruption on a massive scale, or epic foreign policy blunders?  The answer is simple: all this doesn't affect them directly.  Or so they think.

Connecting the shenanigans in Washington, D.C. with the problems of making a living every day is really asking too much of most people.  But I can demonstrate how wrong this assumption is, and how we, the ordinary people, always end up paying for those scandals.

I am the artistic director of a small chamber music festival, where young instrumentalists and singers learn how to collaborate with their peers in small groups.  This skill will allow them to make music for the rest of their lives, no matter the career choices.  We, a non-profit, are not getting a penny from any official source, so all business is done by my executive partner, me, and many volunteers and supporters.

Accordingly, this year I dutifully drove to a local IRS office to collect 1099 MISC forms to fill, as I had done for the last nine years.  Well, what do you know?  They were out of forms.  I decided to try another office, where a nice gentleman explained that this year, the IRS is not providing these particular forms, and I'd have to buy them on my own at a Staples or similar establishment.

Flabbergasted, I got back into the car.  On the way to Staples, it hit me: this was the direct consequence of the huge scandal involving the IRS, Tea Party groups, official e-mails mysteriously lost by just about everybody under investigation, lawsuits, totally useless congressional hearings, et cetera.

Allow me to retrace the steps.

In early 2012, the IRS, in the person of Lois Lerner, acknowledged illegal blocking of hundreds of conservative and pro-Israel organizations' applications.  When Congress finally decided to hold hearings to see if there was something to it, Lois Lerner showed up, disdain dripping from her fringe, declared herself completely innocent, promptly took the Fifth, left the room, and slammed the door for good measure.

In subsequent hearings, the kaleidoscope of acting and former IRS commissioners provided a lot of entertainment but not much clarity.  My favorite performance was by a commissioner Miller, who said the reason he visited the White House over a hundred of times (one hundred sixty-one, if memory serves) was to accompany his children for an Easter egg roll.  Where was Michelle Obama, allowing so much high-cholesterol food for minors, may I ask?

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of official e-mails were laughably declared non-recoverable, then turned up as good as new through FOIA; numerous lawsuits clogged the justice system; applications are still up in the air; and there is no resolution in sight after almost three years.

The latest salvo in this congressional exercise in futility was the timid suggestion to allocate a tiny bit less to the rapidly expanding IRS budget.  The current IRS commissioner came down from his Olympian heights, contempt dripping from his bald head, and declared that in this case, the IRS is not going to be able to provide refunds to taxpayers in a timely manner.

And there you have it: we are forced to pay for our own IRS forms.  Not only is the mighty IRS not providing refunds on time, but it has found other ways to get the money from us where nobody anticipated.  Who would complain about the need to pay $21 for those twenty-some 1099 forms once a year?  Ridiculous to even ask.  And how many millions of tiny organizations are out there?  Nice side business for the IRS, really.

So next time you think those huge federal scandals are not hitting you in the pocket, think again.

Dr. Luba Sindler is a concert pianist and artistic director of Blue Mountain Festival, Lancaster, PA.

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