Amending an Amendment | Commentary

The Bill of Rights was drafted as a document limiting the reach of government and recognizing maximum freedom to individuals and the states. This broad philosophy is the foundation of grass-roots conservative in the tea party movement. But over time, the Constitution has been changed, sometimes resulting in the surrender of personal freedom to an increasingly powerful central government.

No single change to the Constitution better exemplifies this than the 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the authority to collect income tax beginning in 1913. Over the intervening 101 years, the 16th Amendment has resulted in a vast, complex and intrusive system of taxation. The onerous requirements of simply complying with the tax code burdens average American families who are trying their best to pay their taxes, file their tax returns and stay out of trouble. Ask any of these Americans how they feel about the process and they will invariably tell you our current system has to go.

We agree with the millions of Americans who seek fundamental reform to make taxes fairer and flatter, grow jobs and the economy, and put an end to abuses of power by the Internal Revenue Service. However, serious consideration of fundamental tax reform won’t happen until Congress’s constitutional authority to levy an income tax and fund the IRS is removed. That’s why we’re supporting Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s amendment to repeal the 16th Amendment. The current system of income tax has no place in the 21st century and more importantly, the 16th Amendment and the IRS’ enforcement of tax law have no place in a society of free people.

No one is suggesting Americans not pay taxes. Whether the income tax is replaced by a flat tax, a consumption tax or some other simplified system, Bridenstine’s bill makes accommodations for that. What we and others are saying is that we don’t need an income tax or the IRS to fund the government. Repealing the 16th Amendment would not only address those immediate issues of taxation, it would also serve to strengthen the constitutional rights that are compromised by the IRS.

The IRS’s assault on the First Amendment has been on display in recent years as the agency targeted organizations with which the Obama administration disagrees, singling-out those organizations in a campaign of intimidation. Tea Party Patriots and many similar groups endured years of harassment at the hands of the IRS to the extent that Congress referred one former IRS official for criminal investigation and held that person in contempt for not revealing the extent of the targeting. Repealing the 16th Amendment ends IRS abuses.

Congress recognizes how the IRS violated our constitutional rights. But there are parallel concerns involving the Fourth Amendment and its protections against unwarranted search and seizure. The Founders never conceived of the IRS when they drafted the Fourth Amendment, which assures “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” among other things, as Bridenstine has argued.

While the legal underpinnings of such an argument are open to debate, there is no debate as to whether the IRS and the 16th Amendment violate the underlying spirit of the Fourth Amendment. Americans are compelled to provide excruciatingly detailed, personal and confidential information every year to the IRS. Name one other entity (besides Obamacare) that demands so much personal information from average Americans; there is none. The IRS and the 16th Amendment which spawned it are unique in that the IRS holds the power to compel people to surrender all nature of material that would ordinarily be constitutionally protected.

This power did not come overnight. Early American socialist and populist parties began advocating an income tax in the late 19th century, and the Democratic Party followed suit beginning in the 1890s. By 1909, Congress voted for the 16th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification, with the amendment finally taking effect in 1913. It’s a good bet these early tax activists were told that their quest for a constitutional amendment creating an income tax was Quixotic but they worked hard and succeeded in creating a system that has endured with ever-increasing complexity for more than a century.

Now, it’s our turn. This will not be a brief or easy effort. Between a Congress littered with tax-and-spend Democrats and Republicans, and untold special interests fighting for their tax code carve-outs, the long knives will be out for anyone who takes on the 16th Amendment. But the time for reform is now and it will be instructive to watch how Congress defends the IRS and the means by which it was created.

Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.

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