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Firms balk at health-care law paperwork nightmare

| Saturday, July 31, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Talk about a bad dream: Tucked into the new health-care law is a demand that nearly 40 million businesses file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods.

House Democrats want to repeal it. Republicans, too. But nothing is that simple in an election year.

The latest effort was expected to come to a vote late Friday.

The goal of the provision was to prevent vendors from underreporting their income to the Internal Revenue Service. The government must think those vendors are omitting a lot because the filing requirement is estimated to bring in $19 billion over the next decade.

Businesses must file Form 1099s with the IRS when they purchase more than $600 in services from a vendor in a year. The new provision would extend the requirement to the purchase of goods, starting in 2012.

The requirement would hit about 38 million businesses, charities and tax-exempt organizations, many of them small businesses swamped by government paperwork, according to a recent report by the National Taxpayer Advocate. It would create an avalanche of paperwork that could strain the IRS, wrote the advocate, an independent watchdog within the tax agency.

Businesses that repeatedly make small purchases from the same vendor would have to keep good records in case the total exceeds $600 in a year. Companies would have to get vendors' tax identification numbers to include in the filings.

"Tax paperwork and compliance are already major expenses for small businesses," a coalition of 80 business groups wrote in a recent letter to lawmakers. "This new and expanded requirement means that almost every business-to-business transaction is potentially reportable to the IRS."

Lawmakers have heard the complaints.

"This 1099 reporting was a well-intentioned provision to try to catch people who were cheating on their taxes," said Rep. Scott Murphy, D-N.Y. "But it has some unintended consequences, in my opinion, that will create a lot of extra work and hassle for our small businesses."

However, repealing the requirement would have a cost: the $19 billion in lost revenue over the next decade. Making up for that is where Democrats and Republicans part ways.

Republicans want to repeal the filing requirement and pay for it by changing other parts of the new health-care law, a strategy that Democratic leaders won't support. Democrats want to repeal the filing requirement and pay for it by raising taxes on international corporations and limiting taxpayers' ability to use special trusts to avoid gifts taxes. Republicans won't support that.

House Republicans tried to do it their way by amending an unrelated tax bill late Thursday. House Democratic leaders responded by shelving the bill.

House Democrats introduced their version of a bill to repeal the filing requirement yesterday morning. A vote was expected late in the day, just before the House went on summer vacation. Though the Democrats hold a majority in the House, prospects for passage were uncertain because they brought up the bill under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for approval.

"Frankly, this is a missed opportunity," said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "It is a missed opportunity to fix a fundamental flaw in the health-care law and a missed opportunity to truly help American employers and the jobs they provide."

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