WASHINGTON — IRS letters about tax refund checks led some Democrats to cry foul Tuesday because they prominently display President Bush’s name and promise more tax cuts "for years to come."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., compared the letters to a sweepstakes mailing and questioned whether the notices are even necessary at an estimated cost of between $21 million and $29.3 million.
"This letter looks more like it was written for a candidate in a campaign than for a government agency," Schumer said. "They’re bragging about the tax cuts."
The Internal Revenue Service plans to mail in July more than 91 million notices reminding taxpayers about the refunds of up to $300 for a single taxpayer and up to $600 for a married couple.
The first-of-their-kind notices, written with Treasury Department and White House input, describe when each taxpayer should get a check and how certain tax rules could affect it. Treasury officials say the letter will avert a deluge of phone calls and clear up confusion among taxpayers.
"The letter contains the information the taxpayer needs," said IRS spokesman Terry Lemons.
The first two paragraphs, which focus on the overall 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut that will be gradually phased in, drew the strongest objection from Schumer and other Democrats:
"We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law" the tax bill, "which provides long-term tax relief for all Americans who pay income taxes."
"The new tax law provides immediate tax relief in 2001 and long-term tax relief for years to come."
Schumer urged Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in a letter Tuesday to stop the notices, which Schumer said "could harm the reputation of the IRS" and set a costly precedent.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer defended the notices, saying they represent "good government" and suggesting that Democrats who complained about them were unhappy that Bush and Republicans had enacted their centerpiece domestic priority.
"The president is very proud that the taxpayers are about to receive a first-time rebate, because there has been an overpayment in taxes," Fleischer said.
The House-Senate conference that approved the final tax bill, which included Democratic members, approved language in its report that lawmakers "anticipate" the IRS would mail such letters to taxpayers about one month after the bill became law. Bush signed it June 7.
"This information should decrease the telephone calls" from taxpayers to the IRS, the report says.
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