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By Katelyn Brown October 17, 2017

Tax code is so long that nobody's really sure of its length

The tax code has been a big topic since President Donald Trump visited Missouri in August. Trump called for tax cuts and policies that he said would grow the economy. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., continues to voice these ideas to Missourians.

Blunt said that Missourians need a tax code that is simple and fair.

"Our tax code has nearly doubled since 1985," Blunt said in a tweet on Sept. 8, linking to an opinion piece with the same line from the Kansas City Star.

Has tax code really doubled in 32 years? We decided to see if Blunt is right.

Tax code

We reached out to Blunt’s office and were pointed to an article from the Tax Foundation.

"In 1955, the Internal Revenue Code stood at 409,000 words. Since then, it has grown to a total of 2.4 million words: almost six times as long as it was in 1955 and almost twice as long as in 1985," the website said.

The Tax Foundation defines itself as an independent, nonprofit think tank.

The Internal Revenue Code is a list of regulations that govern how taxes are submitted and collected.

However, the Tax Foundation also points out that tax code isn’t the only thing that Americans must deal with to complete their taxes. It talks about the 7.7 million words of tax regulations from the IRS and the 60,000 pages of case law that is tax related. These are not law, but are also important pieces of understanding taxes.

We wanted to dig a little deeper still.

The length

If you download the Internal Revenue Code from the United States Code, also known as Title 26 in the document, the file is 6,550 pages long. Not all of that is the text of the code itself, but that is still rather lengthy. Blunt definitely got it right that the code is long, but has it doubled since 1985?

"Since it was last reformed in 1986, there have been thousands of additions and changes to the Tax Code over the last 30 years," said Caroline Bruckner, the Managing Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center at American University.

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report from the Taxpayer Advocate Service to Congress in 2008 about the complexity of the tax code, outlined how the word count of tax code has grown from 1.395 million words in 2001 to 3.7 million words when the report was done. That’s a 265 percent growth in word count in seven years.

"The Code has grown so long that it has become challenging even to figure out how long it is," the report said.

The report from the Taxpayer Advocate Service stated the length of the code has more than tripled since 1975. A similar report published in 2012 by the Taxpayer Advocate Service noted 4 million words at the time of the report. That is a 286 percent growth in word count from the 2001 figure.

Why does it grow, though?

Bruckner pointed to the continuous changes that are passed by Congress to raise revenue and address problems as well as the IRS publishing changes to tax rules yearly to factor in inflation.

"Our tax laws are not static; and, in fact, when they are, they tend to create more problems than not for taxpayers. That’s one reason why Congress adjusts the Tax Code so often," she said.

What’s the big deal?

Why are politicians so fascinated with the size of a document?

"Outdated tax policies are stifling our economy and taking money out of the pockets of hardworking Missourians," Blunt said in the article for the Kansas City Star.

Some view the volume of the tax code as the problem, but others think it is the complexity of the code and the process of collecting taxes. Bruckner believes there are ways to streamline the taxation process.

"The majority of adults in the U.S. now have a smartphone — who cares how long the tax code is if you could just pay your taxes using an app that tracks your expenses, deductions and credits for you? The challenge is how do we do that without compromising taxpayer privacy and security concerns," she said.

The report from the IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate Service also discuss the amount of hours it takes Americans to complete their taxes and how much money it costs to hire people to assist.

Our ruling

Blunt said the tax code has nearly doubled since 1985. Government and independent reports suggest the number of words used in the tax grown has grown even more than that.

We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

Tweet, Sen. Roy Blunt, Sept. 8, 2017

Email correspondence with Katie Boyd, Press Secretary to Sen. Roy Blunt, Sept. 25, 2017

Families and small business need tax relief, Sen. Roy Blunt, Kansas City Star, Sept. 3, 2017

The Compliance Costs of IRS Regulations, The Tax Foundation, June 15, 2016

2008 Annual Report to Congress Volume One, Section One - Most Serious Problems, The Complexity of the Tax Code, Taxpayer Advocate Service

2012 Annual Report to Congress Volume One, Section One - Most Serious Problems, The Complexity of the Tax Code, Taxpayer Advocate Service

United States Code, Title 26, Office of the Law Revision Counsel

Email correspondence with Caroline Bruckner, Managing Director, Kogod Tax Policy Center, Kogod School of Business, American University, Oct. 3, 2017

2012 CCH Whole Ball of Tax, CCH, Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting

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