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Congress can't agree on much, but it seems to agree that being delinquent in paying your income tax -- or being behind in wading through the paperwork -- is grounds for revoking your passport.

This might not sound too bad to most people, but it sounds awful to the 7 million or so Americans living abroad. They need their passport almost daily to attend to chores we take for granted at home. 

They're also likely to have trouble receiving notices from the Internal Revenue Service because of unreliable mail delivery in much of the world and differences in address formats that often don't fit with the IRS' rigid addressing system.

But there it is, buried deep in the massive highway-funding bill, which contains all sorts of provisions that have little or nothing to do with highways. The measure, inserted by nominally tax-hating GOP solons,  has been approved by both the House and Senate and is now in the final moments of being considered by a conference committee before being given final approval.


$50,000 threshold

How much would you have to owe to lose your passport? The bill specifies $50,000 of unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest. That may sound like a lot, but it doesn't take long for penalties and interest to add up. Throw in a year or two of back taxes and any middle-income wage earner or independent contractor could be in trouble.

In the "gig economy," in fact, it's easier than ever to get into trouble with the IRS, since the taxpayer must try to make accurate quarterly payments based on estimated income. Anyone who's done this for more than a few years will tell you it's a recipe for big penalty and interest payments.

Politicians are fond of noting -- sometimes to their detriment -- that more than 40% of Americans pay no income tax at all so Congressional thinking is apparently that it's OK to make up for it by being more penurious with those who do.

The Wall Street Journal says the punitive measure would apply, in most cases, only to those who have been hit with a lien or a levy, something that is not that unusual for the self-employed or for high wage-earners who find themselves in a dispute with the IRS.

If passed in its present form, the measure would take effect Jan. 1 and would apply to existing tax debts. So enjoy the holidays. And pay your taxes. 

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