Image Gallery: Taxes
Image Gallery: Taxes

If you think filling out tax forms is a pain, just imagine how complicated the laws that created them are. See more pictures of taxes.

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If you think that tax forms are unnecessarily complicated, wait until you see the tax code. Officially called the Internal Revenue Code, the tax code is written by Congress and is currently more than 3.7 million words long [source: Olson]. Luckily, the tax code wasn't written all at once. Rather, it's a compilation of all tax laws written and passed by Congress since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to levy taxes for the collection of revenue. Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States." However, income tax as we know it didn't exist until the ratification of the 16th Amendment, in 1913.

The Internal Revenue Code was first compiled in 1939 and underwent major revisions in 1954 and 1986 [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. It comprises Title 26 of the U.S. Code, an updated volume of federal law maintained by the Office of Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives.

The tax code is so long and complicated because it includes every tax law designed to promote a specific cause or benefit a certain constituency. Sometimes Congress uses the tax code to promote social welfare, such as a tax break for low-income housing construction. Congress also alters the tax code to stimulate economic growth, perhaps by making it easier to take business deductions. Other changes to the tax code are strictly political rewards for special interest groups that support congressmen during their election campaigns [source: Nolo].

We know who writes the tax code, but who enforces the rules within? Find out on the next page.