- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

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.

Budget surplus?

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 Defense 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 look.

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 mindset 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 rebirth 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 the Constitution.

We might also forgo another portion of the refund due to shore up our armed forces, or to construct a missile defense. Again, "common defense" 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 Welfare"?

Hardly.

"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 Gov. George W. Bush it would be but one small step.

For America, a giant leap.

Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and historian, is director of the Center for the American Founding and author of "America's 30 Years War: Who Is Winning?"

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