Hang Up on War
By Amy Goodman
-- -- If you are upset that Congress won’t defund the war in
Iraq, there’s something you can do: Stop paying a tax. Legally.
The Internal Revenue Service is giving a rebate this year on a
telephone war tax. This is one of those line items at the bottom
of your phone bill. The tax was instituted in 1898 to help the
United States pay for the Spanish-American War. Individuals and
businesses have one chance to obtain a refund on this telephone
war tax, by asking for it in their 2006 income tax returns.
Remarkably, the Internal Revenue Service has made it easy to
request the refund, yet IRS Commissioner Mark Everson says that
many taxpayers are overlooking it. Obtaining the refund is easy.
But first, a little history.
The Spanish-American War lasted from April to August of 1898 and
was predicated on a U.S. government demand that Spain abandon
its colony in Cuba, which the U.S. subsequently occupied. By the
end of 1898, the United States had also taken over the
Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico.
The war was also used as an official pretext to take over
Hawaii. The Senate debated over the annexation in secret, some
arguing for total annexation, others for just Pearl Harbor. Sen.
Richard Pettigrew of South Dakota derided the annexation plan as
money “thrown away in the interest of a few sugar planters and
adventurers in Hawaii.” Military bases and raw materials—sound
The telephone tax was instituted as part of the War Revenue
Bill, which expanded the government’s ability to collect taxes,
ostensibly to pay for the war. As with the myriad controversial
“pork” items added to the recent Iraq war funding authorization,
the 1898 bill was the subject of scores of amendments that
benefited big business. These included tax breaks for powerful
industries like the insurance companies and tobacco dealers.
The telephone tax of 1 cent per call targeted the wealthy, who
were generally the only ones who had telephone access in 1898.
After the war, the tax was eventually raised to 3 percent. Since
the Vietnam War, it has been the target of war tax resisters,
people who refuse to pay taxes because they do not want to fund
Tax resistance has a long history. Henry David Thoreau promoted
it in his essay “Civil Disobedience” to fight slavery: “If a
thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that
would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay
them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent
blood.” The IRS has vigorously targeted full-fledged tax
resisters—ranging from those refusing to pay the Pentagon’s
percentage of their taxes, to those who outright refuse to pay
anything to the government—making an example of them by
garnishing wages, sending them to prison for tax evasion and
confiscating their homes.
Tax resisters figured out that they could protest the telephone
tax simply by writing their checks to the phone company,
withholding the amount of the tax. The IRS deemed the collection
of the tax too expensive, relative to the small amount of the
tax itself. According to the National War Tax Resistance
Coordinating Committee, early collection efforts by the IRS
included the auctioning of Jim Glock’s bicycle for $22 in 1973
and of George and Lillian Willoughby’s VW Bug in 1971 for $123
(in 2004, Lillian, at 89, with the support of her husband,
George, 94, was jailed for protesting the Iraq war).
Court losses convinced the IRS to dump the telephone war tax in
2006 and to offer the retroactive rebate for phone taxes paid
between March 1, 2003, and July 31, 2006. Typical refunds will
be between $30 and $60. Ironically, while the IRS has dropped
the tax on long-distance and “bundled” services, like high-speed
Internet, the tax remains for older, standard local phone
services and rental of equipment that enables the disabled to
use phones. Thus, this tax on the rich is now a tax on the poor.
Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., has submitted a bill to
permanently wipe this remnant clean. Two-thirds of the bill’s
co-sponsors are anti-tax Republicans, so Democrats might be
leery about passing it.
www.refundsforgood.org, lists step-by-step instructions on
how to recoup the telephone tax rebate, and recommends donating
it to charity.
While Congress and President Bush trade barbs over war funding,
with a simple check mark on your tax return you can help to
defund the war. Claim your telephone tax rebate. Let the
Pentagon hold a bake sale.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily
international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North
© 2007 Amy Goodman
to comment on this and other articles
Send Page To a Friend
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational
purposes. Information Clearing House has no
affiliation whatsoever with the originator of
this article nor is Information ClearingHouse
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)