Simple Return Act critics look to profit off taxpayers

A recent op-ed in The Hill by Ryan Young (“A backdoor tax on the poor,” Nov. 9) deserves a response.

In his commentary, Young claims the Simple Return Act — a bill I have introduced for the past two years — would lead to increased taxes on those who file basic returns. He also claims the Simple Return would constitute an invasion of privacy by deputizing IRS workers to investigate taxpayers.

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This is wrong.

The IRS already has much of your personal information, such as your W-2 and 1099 forms. The Simple Return Act (H.R. 1069) would make the government use that information to help you, not just to catch you making a mistake.

Arguments that a Simple Return is a regressive tax on the poor assume the government will take advantage of those who file basic returns by consistently erring in its own interest and hoping filers don’t notice. There are no facts to support this claim.

It is estimated that around 40 million Americans file basic tax returns each year and would qualify for a Simple Return. Americans spend $2 billion a year on tax-preparation fees and 225 million hours doing their taxes each year. The Simple Return would save people an estimated $44 billion over 10 years.

The Simple Return is voluntary. Americans would have the opportunity to review their returns and either sign or reject them. Everyone can choose whether to do their taxes themselves.

A powerful lobbying interest made up of accounting, advisory, and software firms wants to defeat this bill. Those companies are cashing in on taxpayers’ $2 billion annual misery. No wonder they don’t want a simpler system.

From Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Washington, D.C.

PhRMA falls short on explaining trade pact

PhRMA’s John J. Castellani fails completely to answer serious concerns from health groups that U.S. proposals to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would compromise access to medicines in the Asia-Pacific region and increase legal barriers to cost efficiency for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Vietnam (“The global battle against HIV/AIDS,” Nov. 3).

Newly leaked negotiating texts reveal that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is demanding that Trans-Pacific countries radically expand monopoly privileges for Big Pharma and eliminate safeguards against patent abuse. The U.S. proposal to the Trans-Pacific free-trade agreement guts the 2007 congressional New Trade Policy, which provided limited safeguards for access to medicines. It is the most aggressive, pro-Big Pharma proposal the United States has ever brought to a trade negotiation. Who will pay the price? Patients.

The U.S. proposal would extend patent protection to new uses for and minor variations on old drugs, even in the absence of any therapeutic advance. It would mandate patent extensions and new, exclusive controls over clinical trial data, and link regulatory approval to patent status. These measures, among many others proposed across several chapters of leaked U.S. text, facilitate abuse and are already controversial in the United States. They could be disastrous if applied to developing countries throughout the Asia-Pacific.

While most medicines PEPFAR purchases for Vietnam are generics, the remaining patented medicines impose a vastly disproportionate cost burden and reduce the program’s ability to scale up treatment. U.S. proposals at the Trans-Pacific FTA would expand monopoly protections for AIDS drugs in developing countries including Vietnam.

Mr. Castellani claims too much credit for Big Pharma in developing today’s HIV/AIDS treatments. PhRMA has long promoted commercial monopoly privileges as a proxy for future innovation in drug development. But the world’s largest funder of medical research and development is actually the taxpayer-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH). For example, NIH grants led directly to the discovery of ritonavir, the basis for HIV/AIDS products Norvir, Kaletra and Aluvia. Abbott now sells these products in the U.S. and around the world at a high, monopolist price. PEPFAR specifically cites high Aluvia prices in Vietnam as a significant constraint on the program’s cost efficiency. U.S. taxpayers pay exorbitant prices to buy through PEPFAR the AIDS medicine that, ironically, their taxpayer money helped finance in the first place. PhRMA would like to see these monopolies lengthened, strengthened and applied much more broadly through the Trans-Pacific FTA, no matter the public investment or cost to public health.

PhRMA’s definition of “appropriate intellectual property protection” has increased year by year, ever further in excess of World Trade Organization standards. USTR pressures other countries to adopt PHrMA demands — and there are no rational limits to what PhRMA will demand. The proposed measures at the Trans-Pacific FTA are not specifically or rationally related to improved pharmaceutical innovation — only to Big Pharma profit maximization. It falls to Congress to set limits, stand up for taxpayers and stand for public health.

From Peter Maybarduk and Burcu Kilic, Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program, Washington, D.C.