Today is Tax Day, and that means most Tennesseans have filed their federal tax returns, and many are eagerly awaiting their refund. But filing your tax return is about more than getting your money back from Uncle Sam -- it's a reminder of Washington's out-of-control spending and overreach.
Our federal government's largest problem is its $17 trillion debt, $55,000 for every Tennessean. But we can fix the debt and solve other problems by making tough decisions now and getting Washington out of the way.
Here's what I believe we should do about them:
• 1. $17 trillion in debt, and growing: If we don't fix the debt now, we'll have let America slip from the "greatest generation" to the debt-paying generation.
Our skyrocketing debt wastes taxpayer money on interest payments and translates into higher taxes. Its main driver is out-of-control entitlement spending. The Medicare trustees tell us in 12 years Medicare won't have enough money to pay all of seniors' hospital bills.
The problem got worse in March, when President Obama proposed a 10-year budget that never balances and adds about $8 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade. We can do better. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and I have introduced the Fiscal Sustainability Act, which would reduce the growth in entitlement spending by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
• 2. Obamacare taxes: The president's health care law is full of taxes many Americans knew nothing about when Democrats passed it in the middle of the night in 2010. These taxes are one of many reasons I voted against it.
Obamacare's individual mandate requires Americans to buy health insurance approved by Washington or pay a penalty. Its employer mandate requires businesses with 50 employees or more to provide government-approved health insurance or pay a penalty.
I have proposed repealing Obamacare and replacing it with step-by-step reforms that increase freedom and choice and lower the cost of health care for Americans.
• 3. The federal tax code is unfair to Tennesseans: Our tax code is full of loopholes that waste money and make it harder to create jobs.
The federal tax code contains a permanent provision allowing taxpayers to deduct their state income tax to help reduce their federal tax liabilities. For Tennessee and the other eight states with no state income tax, there was a temporary provision allowing Tennesseans to deduct their state and local sales taxes instead, but it expired last year.
Tennesseans shouldn't pay a greater share of taxes simply because we choose not to have a state income tax. I've co-sponsored two pieces of legislation by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that would make the state and local sales tax deduction permanent.
• 4. IRS overreach: Americans generally try to keep the Internal Revenue Service out of their business, and that's especially true after the 2012 election.
The IRS violated our First Amendment right when it created what amounted to an enemies list of conservatives -- including Tennessee tea party groups -- to keep people quiet. Now, instead of working to protect our right to speak up and speak out, the IRS is proposing new regulations so broad they could limit free speech.
I've proposed two pieces of legislation to help stop IRS overreach. I've introduced in the Senate legislation by U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., that would require the federal government to notify you when the IRS has accessed your tax information. My second proposal would delay proposed IRS regulations that could limit free speech.
Our country has serious problems to solve. Hopefully by Tax Day 2015 we can fix them -- and bring a little more Tennessee common sense to Washington.
Lamar Alexander is the U.S. senior senator from Tennessee.