Tax Bill Veto



Message to Congress, Washing ton, D. C., February 22, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 290, 292.

I RETURN herewith, without my approval, H. R. 3687, entitled "An Act to Provide Revenue, and for Other Purposes."

I regret that I found it necessary in the midst of this great war to be compelled to do this in what I regard as the public interest.

Many months ago, after careful examination of the finances of the nation, I asked the Congress for legislation to raise $10,500,000,000 over and above the existing revenue system. Since then persons prominent in our national life have stated in no uncertain terms that my figure was too low.

The measure before me purports to increase the national revenue by a little over $2,000,000,000. Actually, however, the bill in its net results will enrich the Treasury by less than $1,000,000,000.

As a tax bill, therefore, I am compelled to decide that it is wholly ineffective toward that end.

More specifically the bill purports to provide $2,100,000,000 in new revenues. At the same time it cancels out automatic increases in the social security tax which would yield $1,100,000,000. In addition it grants relief from existing taxes which would cost the Treasury at least $150,000,000 and possibly much more.

In this respect it is not a tax bill, but a tax relief bill providing relief not for the needy but for the greedy.

The elimination of automatic increases provided in the Social Security Law comes at a time when industry and labor are best able to adjust themselves to such increases. These automatic increases are required to meet the claims that are being built up against the social security fund. Such a postponement does not seem wise.

The clause relating to renegotiating of war contracts terminates the present renegotiation authority on Dec. 31 of this year. This seems unwise at this time because no person can at present determine what a renegotiation time limit should be. More experience is needed. The formal right of appeal to the tax court that is granted by this bill is an inept provision. The present tax courts exists for a wholly different purpose and does not have the personnel or the time to assume this heavy load.

The bill is replete with provisions which not only afford indefensible special privileges to favored groups but set dangerous precedents for the future. This tendency toward the embodiment of special privileges in our legislation is in itself sufficiently dangerous to counterbalance the loss of a very inadequate sum in additional revenues.

Among these special privileges are:

(a) Permission for corporations reorganized in bankruptcy to retain the high excess profits credit and depreciation basis attributable to the contributions of stockholders who are usually eliminated in the reorganization. This privilege inures to the benefit of bondholders who, in many cases, have purchased their bonds in the speculative market for far less than their face value. It may open the door to further windfall profits in this market because of the undeserved benefit received by reorganized corporations.

(b) Percentage depletion allowances, questionable in any case, are now extended to such minerals as vermiculite, potash, feldspar, mica, talc, lepidolite, barite and spodumene. In the case of some of these minerals the War Production Board refused to certify that current output was inadequate for war needs.

(c) The lumber industry is permitted to treat income from the cutting of timber, including selective logging, as a capital gain rather than annual income. As a grower and seller of timber, I think that timber should be treated as a crop and therefore as income when it is sold. This would encourage reforestation.

(d) Natural gas pipe lines are exempted from the excess profits tax without justification and in a manner which might well lead oil companies to request similar treatment for their pipe lines.

(e) Commercial airlines are granted an unjustifiable extension of the tax subsidy on their airmail contracts.

It has been suggested by some that I should give my approval to this bill on the ground that having asked the Congress for a loaf of bread to take care of this war for the sake of this and succeeding generations, I should be content with a small piece of crust. I might have done so if I had not noted that the small piece of crust contained so many extraneous and inedible materials.

In regard to that part of the bill which relates to wholly unobjectionable tax increases, may I respectfully suggest to the Congress that the excise taxes can easily and quickly be levied. This can be accomplished by the passage of a simple joint resolution enacting those provisions of the bill which increase the excise taxes. I should be glad to approve such a measure. This would preserve the principal revenue provisions of the bill without the objectionable features I have criticized.

In another most important respect this bill would disappoint and fail the American taxpayers. Every one of them, : including ourselves, is disappointed, confused and bewildered over the practicable results of last years' tax bill. The Ruml plan was not the product of this Administration. It resulted from a widespread campaign based on the attractive slogan of "pay-as-you-go." But, as was said many years ago in the State of New York in regard to that same slogan, "You don't pay and you don't go."

The nation will readily understand that it is not the fault of the Treasury Department that the income taxpayers are flooded with forms to fill out which are so complex that a even certified public accountants cannot interpret them. No, it is squarely the fault of the Congress of the United States in using language in drafting the law which not even a dictionary or a thesaurus can make clear.

The American taxpayer has been promised of late that tax laws and returns will be drastically simplified. This bill does not make good that promise. It ignores the most obvious step toward simplifying taxes by failing to eliminate the clumsy Victory tax. For fear of dropping from the tax rolls those taxpayers who are at the bottom of the income scale, the bill retains the Victory tax—while at the same time it grants extensive concessions to many special interest groups.

The suggestion of withholding at graduated rates, which would relieve millions of people of the task of filing declarations of estimated income, was not adopted.

I trust, therefore, that the Congress, after all these delays, will act as quickly as possible for simplification of the tax laws, which will make possible the simplification of the forms and computations now demanded of the individual taxpayers. These taxpayers, now engaged in an effort to win the greatest war this nation has ever faced, are not in a mood to study higher mathematics.

The responsibility of the Congress of the United States is to supply the Government of the United States as a whole with adequate revenue for wartime needs, to provide fiscal support for the stabilization program, to hold firm against the tide of special privileges, and to achieve real simplicity for millions of small income taxpayers.

In the interest of strengthening the home front, in the interest of speeding the day of victory, I urge the earliest possible action.