A year ago, we reported on the State Department’s new passport application rules, which some have called unconstitutional. A new bill now making its way through Congress could prevent even more Americans from traveling abroad. A transportation bill recently passed by the Senate contains a controversial provision that could allow the State Department to revoke the passport of anyone with an “excessive” tax debt. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added the tax enforcement language to an “Act to reauthorize the Federal – aid highway and highway safety construction programs”, probably categorizing it under the latter part of the title, “and for other purposes”. That bill — SB1813– was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November. Before it was passed by the Senate on a 74-22 vote in March, it became the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21. A recent Summary of the Senate Finance Committee Title of the Highway Bill on the Senate’s website reads:
Currently the Federal government revokes passports and denies new passports to individuals who owe more than $2,500 in child support payments. Similarly, this provision would authorize the government to deny the application for a new passport or renewal of an existing passport when the individual has $50,000 or more (indexed for inflation) of unpaid federal taxes which the IRS is collecting through enforcement action. It would also permit the Federal government to revoke a passport upon reentry into the United States for such individuals. This provision is estimated to raise $743 million over ten years.
The provision isn’t as draconian as a first glance would have you believe, but it would be precedent setting, says tax attorney Robert Wood. “Does this [enforcement] apply in all cases? Mercifully no,” writes Wood in a recent Forbes piece. “You could travel if your tax debt is being paid in a timely manner or in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons. But this isn’t limited to criminal tax cases or situations where the government fears someone is fleeing a tax debt.” Wood reminds his readers that the IRS files liens and levies all the time and that under the tax enforcement provision of MAP-21, all it would take is an accusation of a debt to prevent any U.S. Citizen from leaving the country at their leisure. According to constitutional attorney Angel Reyes, the provision is a violation of due process and is unconstitutional. “It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determines that you owe taxes,” Reyes told FOX Business. “It’s a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute.” Perhaps Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul wasn’t off his meds when he suggested last September that the lingering economic malaise might encourage federal-level capital controls (and even lead to what he called “people controls”). Those remarks, the target of popular ridicule at the time, came during a nationally televised Republican presidential debate.
You have probably heard that the General Electric Corporation made about $14.2 billion in profits last year, and that didn’t pay a single penny in taxes on that huge profit. Even worse, they actually got the government to give them $3.2 billion. That’s not just wrong, it’s absolutely obscene! And GE’s absurdity doesn’t stop there. They have doubled the already enormous salary of their CEO, Jeffrey Immelt. Now a reasonable person might think that a company with a profit of $14.2 billion and no tax bill would not only reward their management but also all of their workers. But that would be wrong. The company is now planning to ask their employees to take cuts in pay and benefits. This has to be the very definition of greed gone out-of-control. But what really defies belief is that President Obama has now appointed GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to be the chairman of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That’s right. The CEO of a company that made $14.2 billion in profit and still wants to cut wages and benefits for its workers is going to be giving jobs advice to the president. That’s like asking the fox how to build a safe and secure chicken coop! Well, Russ Feingold doesn’t think this makes much sense either. Here’s what he has to say about this fiasco. It’s everything that’s wrong with corporate power today. News broke last week that General Electric, America’s largest corporation, made $14,200,000,000 in profits last year and paid $0 in taxes — that’s right, zero dollars in taxes. At the same time, C.E.O. Jeffrey Immelt saw his compensation double. Now I hear that GE is expected to ask 15,000 of their unionized workers to make major concessions in wages and benefits. But what really adds insult to injury is the prestigious and influential position Jeffrey Immelt holds as chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That’s wrong. Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits — and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled — should not lead the administration’s effort to create jobs. We cannot stand by and watch while we are led down this road. Mr. Immelt must step down from the president’s jobs panel — and if he won’t, President Obama needs to ask for his resignation. How can someone like Immelt be given the responsibility of heading a jobs creation task force when his company has been creating more jobs overseas while reducing its American workforce? And under Immelt’s direction, GE spends hundreds of millions of dollars hiring lawyers and lobbyists to evade taxes. All of this at a time when Fox News and the right wing are demonizing public workers, like teachers, as the cause of our economic problems. It’s time for policymakers to stop coddling corporate interests, and get to work creating jobs and wealth for Main Street. We shouldn’t reward wealthy CEOs and Wall Street for behavior that undermines the nation’s economy. President Obama has been talking about how we must “win the future,” and I agree with him in that goal. Jeffrey Immelt is not the person for that job.