Owe the IRS? You're Not Going Anywhere

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Published April 05, 2012

| FOXBusiness

A new bill making its way through Congress could allow the federal government to prevent Americans who owe back taxes from leaving the country.

The provision is part of Senate Bill 1813, which was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November and passed by the Senate on March 14 “to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes.”

Those “other purposes” have come to include a little-known amendment recently introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would allow the State Department to revoke, deny or limit passports for anyone the Internal Revenue Service certifies as having “a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.”

While the provision does make exceptions if the debt “is being paid in a timely manner” or “in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons,” it doesn’t require that a person be charged with tax evasion before having their passport revoked -- only that the IRS has filed a notice of lien or levy against them.

Constitutional Attorney Angel Reyes says that’s a violation of due process and is unconstitutional.

“It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes,” Reyes told FOX Business. “It’s a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute.”

Financial Adviser Clark Hodges says the measure is especially concerning given the high number of taxpayers it could affect.

“There are so many people that fall into that situation, and I think that’s too invasive. Especially coming out of a bad economy there are a lot of people behind on a lot of things,” he told Fox Business.

Still, the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or “MAP-21″ passed the Senate in a vote of 74-22, and is now headed for the GOP-controlled house where it’s expected to meet stronger opposition.

Boxer’s office declined to comment on the passport provision when contacted by Fox Business, but the Senator vowed last week to do everything in her power to get the bill across the finish line.

“Thousands of businesses are at stake, and eventually we are talking about nearly three million jobs at stake,” she said in a statement. “There are many people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate who want to get our bill, MAP-21, passed into law, and I am going to do everything I can to keep the pressure on the Republican House to do just that.”

Niels Lesniewski, Editor of CQ SenateWatch, says legally the provision has precedent on its side.

“Existing law says that passports may not be reviewed for applicants owing child support in excess of $2,500. So I think supporters would say: ‘You can’t get a passport if you don’t pay child support, but you can get a passport if you don’t pay taxes?” he said.

As for the MAP-21’s prospects of passing the House, Lesniewski says it’s hard to tell if it will withstand Republican opposition, but he believes the passport provision has a good chance at becoming law for one reason: money.

“This provision is expected to raise almost $750 million in the 10-year window that they do the budget,” he said. “I think it will get passed eventually, and not necessarily as part of the transportation bill, but it seems like relatively low hanging fruit.”

Senator Reid’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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