Obamacare Would Let Government Bureaucrats Snoop Through Tax Returns

How far do you want your tax returns to go?

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

One of the rallying cries issuing forth during the congressional recess from those opposed to Obamacare was that members of Congress need to read the health care bill before voting on it. Let Freedom Ring!, an organization with which I am affiliated, even went so far to ask every member of the U.S. House and Senate to pledge they would do so in writing.

The request is simple enough. In fact, it should be a no-brainer. True, the bill under consideration in the House before the August break ran more than 1,000 pages, meaning it would be a lot of work just to read through it. But, when dealing with something as fundamental as health care, which represents close to 20 percent of U.S. GDP, it only makes sense that members of Congress should know what is in it before they vote on it.

The people have good reason to be concerned. The House bill is full of things which may surprise them that have nothing to do with public option or rationing but are equally odious. As Declan McCullagh, who writes the "Taking Liberties" blog for CBS News reported on August 26, the Democratic health care bill divulges IRS tax data to other parts of the government.

McCullagh identified several sections in the House bill that would allow the government access to sensitive IRS data. According to Section 431(a), a provision related to determining eligibility for so-called "affordability credits" the IRS, he wrote, "must divulge taxpayer identity information, including the filing status, the modified adjusted gross income, the number of dependents, and 'other information as is prescribed by' regulation."

Another portion of the bill, Section 1801(a) says, again according to McCullagh's analysis, "that the Social Security Administration can obtain tax return data on anyone who may be eligible for a 'low-income prescription drug subsidy' but has not applied for it."

In a program of the size contemplated in the health care bill, the Congress is right to build in safeguards that would prevent fraud. How far they go in that regard, however, is something that should be open to public debate. People, both in and out of the public spotlight, are notoriously private about what they tell the IRS. Allowing government bureaucrats to snoop through tax returns is just the kind of thing that is liable to raise the public's hackles, especially if it gets through without people knowing it was there.

The idea that certain politicians in Washington are eager to pass a health care bill that contains provisions like this, without giving the people a chance to read it and debate it, should give everyone pause. President Obama has more than three years left in office; the sitting Congress has 14 months before it has to stand for re-election. What's the rush? Isn't it more important to get it right than to get it done?

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