Dollar Dissent

Tax Resisters Chip Away at Bush's War Chest

"You really have to go out of your way to go to jail. The IRS gives you all kinds of opportunities," he says, to pay up and avoid repercussions, as the agency's own collection rule book notes. The risks are worthwhile, Hedemann insists, because "tax resistance has a direct impact on the government."

Federal budget experts are quick to disagree with him. Robert McIntyre heads Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit known to lean liberal. Nevertheless, he puts war tax resistance "somewhere between silly and evil." Silly, because if resistance were actually to rise to a felt level, the government would simply borrow the money it could not get from taxes to keep the war going. And evil, because resisters are "putting their share of the government on other people." (A bill to create a peace tax fund—a federally approved way to pay taxes but keep them away from the military—was introduced in the spring of 2002 and supported by a number of Congress members, including current House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. It has not been reintroduced this year.)

If war tax resisters intend to deplete the funding merely for this particular war, they should know that its cost is relatively low and easily supported by other means, according to Steven Kosiak, director of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. (Moreover, Kosiak doubts that "it's even intellectually possible" to deduce what percentage of the war payout derives from personal income tax revenue.) The Korean War cost 14 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, he says, and the Vietnam War cost 19 percent. Current estimates for the war in Iraq amount to 4 percent or less.

Ed Hedemann: Defying the IRS is easier than you think.
photo: Cary Conover
Ed Hedemann: Defying the IRS is easier than you think.

The entire military budget for fiscal year 2003—minus the cost of the war in Iraq—comes in it at about $390 billion. Hedemann admits that the occasional resister "may not bring the military to a grinding halt." Yet if the hundreds of thousands of recent anti-war protesters were to decide, " 'I've had enough of marching, I want to do something more,' " says Hedemann, "it would be something the government couldn't ignore."

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