I ran the numbers and looked at how the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act — even if it overcomes the many hurdles it has to jump before it could become law — would be powerless to compel the government to spend any less on military spending than it otherwise would.
But perhaps if it does no good in this regard, at least it does no harm, and so it might be a worthwhile gesture if only for symbolic reasons.
Unfortunately, there’s every reason to expect that not only would the Act fail to reduce military spending, it would actually increase military spending. Here’s how:
As even the proponents of the Act admit, the effect of the act on government revenue as a whole would be to increase it:
The Report by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation on the Bill states that implementation of the Peace Tax Fund concept would slightly increase the revenue to the government. There will certainly be a savings from increased compliance and a decrease in the current expenses to enforce collections from conscientious objectors who are war tax resisters. Also, those who purposely keep their incomes low to avoid contributing to the military would be able to earn to their potential, thus increasing the amount of income available to the government.
So the question becomes: if the government would expect to increase its revenue in this way, is there any reason to expect that it would not spend any of this increase on the military? As we saw , the Act would not prohibit or even discourage this.
What is more likely to happen if the Act becomes law and the government revenues increase as expected?
- that the government would pause, reflect that its slightly enlarged coffers are due to formerly conscientious objectors who would disapprove if they spend more money on war, and resist the temptation to throw more money at the Pentagon?
- or, that the government would allocate its next budget in the same haphazard and bloodthirsty way it always does, only with a little more to dole out than before?
Isn’t it only wishful thinking to expect the former and not the latter?
In this way, every dollar paid into the “Peace Tax Fund” would increase taxpayer spending on the military while at the same time it would deceive some of the people who have qualms about this into believing that they are not supporting military spending by paying into it.
But wait just a minute. What about the part of the Act that reads as follows:
Sense of Congress — It is the sense of Congress that any increase in revenue to the Treasury resulting from the creation of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund shall be allocated in a manner consistent with the purposes of the Fund.
At first glance, that would seem to solve the problem I’ve raised here. Except for one important detail. The “sense of Congress” is legally worthless. It is unenforceable. Like the Act’s preamble, it is just decoration. Bills are frequently studded with noble-sounding but worthless “sense of Congress” sections:
- It is the sense of Congress that the major greenhouse gas emitting countries join with the United States in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- It is the sense of Congress that any acts of violence or discrimination against any Americans be condemned.
- It is the sense of the Congress that Hmong and other Highland Lao veterans who fought on behalf of the Armed Forces of the United States during the Vietnam conflict and have lawfully been admitted to the United States for permanent residence should be considered veterans for purposes of continuing certain welfare benefits
The courts do not consider “sense of Congress” provisions to be binding, enforceable law (as the Hmong veterans found out when they tried to take the “sense of Congress” to the bank and cash it). At best, such provisions can be seen as guidance as to what Congress’s intentions were if the law itself is ambiguous. But try to imagine how a court would enforce the “sense of Congress” provision in the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act even if it decided that such a provision were enforceable.
Say someone complains to the court that even though the additional money raised through the Act was supposed to be specifically for non-military spending, the year after the Act passed military spending increased at a higher rate than non-military spending, thus violating “the sense of Congress.”
The government would respond that, no, it’s just a coincidence. Spending for various military and non-military government programs goes up and down for all sorts of reasons every year. The government followed the “sense of Congress” to the letter, and would have increased military spending by even more if Congress hadn’t expressed its sense so clearly. Besides, even if this were not the case, it would only reflect the fact that the sense of Congress had changed — and it is the prerogative of Congress, having declared its sense with one law, to change its mind with another.
How would you expect a judge to rule?
But as I pointed out, the judge won’t have to decide this on the merits. Such a case would just get thrown out of court based on the general practice of ignoring “sense of Congress” provisions as extralegal throat clearing.
So not only will the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act be powerless to reduce military spending, but, if the conscientious and peace-loving Americans in the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund are successful in having it enacted into law, it will actually increase the amount of taxpayer money that goes to the military.