Sen. McCain, Rep. Flake Introduce Bill to Allow Taxpayers to Voluntarily Help Pay Down the Federal Debt

By Adam Cassandra | June 17, 2010 | 6:31 PM EDT

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) (Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

Washington ( –Two members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would allow taxpayers to “earmark” up to 10 percent of their federal income tax liability to pay down the national debt.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) held a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday to promote their “Debt Buy-Down Act of 2010” in the House and Senate on Thursday.
“It’s time we do something about (the debt),” McCain said. “This is, I think, one way that we could not only reduce the deficit, but reduce spending at the same time.”
The taxpayer "earmark" would not add to the amount you owe on your taxes – but operate like the current $3 federal campaign finance check-off box on your tax return.
“We finally found an earmark we both support -- allowing individuals to earmark a portion of their taxes to pay down the debt,” Flake said.
The bill is an updated version of legislation, first introduced in 1992 by Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), that failed to get out of Congress. Attempts to pass similar legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate in subsequent years have also proved unsuccessful.
Both McCain and Flake, however, have high hopes that this time may be different, given the nation’s record-high debt of $13 trillion and the high-level of concern that taxpayers have about federal spending.
“I’m confident that we are at a point now that the American people are ready to embrace such a measure,” McCain said. asked Flake why taxpayers should not just elect representatives who will institute the necessary policies to cut the debt and spending. 
“I hope they do that as well,” he replied. “They need to do that, but it can’t happen fast enough.”
Flake added: “This (legislation) says we’re going to hold your feet to the fire. If you don’t buy down the debt, then we’ll have a sequester of funds and then force you to buy down the debt.”
The legislation directs the Internal Revenue Service to include a line on tax returns enabling taxpayers to pay up to 10 percent of their tax liability to debt reduction. The bill establishes a trust fund to set aside the taxpayer money until it is spent on debt obligations. 
The bill also requires Congress to pass spending reductions equal to the amount of debt reduction designated by taxpayers, or reductions would come from across-the-board cuts in program spending levels absent congressional action.
In the event of across-the-board cuts, the bill would exempt Social Security benefits, benefits for the uniformed services, and payments for net interest.
Flake told that he thinks the American public would fully support the legislation and use their tax obligations to pay down the federal debt.
“I can’t imagine anybody not doing that,” Flake said. “I can’t imagine any taxpayer out there saying 'I’m comfortable with the level of debt that I’m gonna pass on to my kids or grandkids,' so I would expect that you’d have a sizable number of people check it off when they realize, ‘It’s not coming out of my refund. I’m just earmarking some of my money to go to pay down the debt, to do what these politicians all say they want to do anyway, and I’m just gonna force them to do it.’ ”
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, says that his organization has supported the taxpayer debt buy-down idea for the past 15 years. Schatz testified before the House Ways and Means Committee about the merits of similar legislation in 1993.
“It involves taxpayers more directly in the effort,” Schatz told  “Other than the elections, where one hopes that members of Congress will carry out some fiscally conservative proposals or vote for them, this is a way to force them to do so, and there’s no other really direct way to do it.”
“People are angry that nothing is being done,” Schatz said.
As attempts over the past decade to pass similar legislation have failed, Congressman Flake said he is anticipating resistance to his bill from House and Senate Democrats.
“Well, there are some who will say on the majority side, ‘Hey we can do this on our own.  We don’t need somebody to hold our feet to the fire,’ Rep. Flake said. “But I think history says otherwise.”