Internal Revenue Code (IRC): Definition, What It Covers, History

What Is the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)?

The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) refers to Title 26 of the U.S. Code, the official "consolidation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States," as the Code's preface explains. Commonly referred to as the IRS code or IRS tax code, the laws in Title 26 are enforced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The United States Code was first published in 1925 by the U.S. House of Representatives. Title 26 covers all relevant rules pertaining to income, gift, estate, sales, payroll, and excise taxes.

Understanding the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)

The Internal Revenue Code is broken down into the following topics or subcategories:

  • A. Income Taxes
  • B. Estate and Gift Taxes
  • C. Employment Taxes
  • D. Miscellaneous Excise Taxes
  • E. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Certain Other Excise Taxes
  • F. Procedure and Administration
  • G. The Joint Committee on Taxation
  • H. Financing of Presidential Election Campaigns
  • I. Trust Fund Code
  • J. Coal Industry Health Benefits
  • K. Group Health Plan Requirements

History of the Internal Revenue Code

In 1919, a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives began a project to re-codify the U.S. Statutes. The completed version was published in 1925. Title 26, the Internal Revenue Code, was originally compiled in 1939. Congress has the authority to rewrite the tax code and add items to it every year. For example, in 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which brought about major reforms of the tax code affecting both individuals and businesses.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), founded in 1862, governs the codes in Title 26. Based in Washington, D.C., the IRS is also responsible for collecting taxes. The IRS is granted the right to issue fines and punishments for violations of the Internal Revenue Code.

Campaigns to Abolish the Code

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 enacted significant changes to the previous laws. However, there have also been ongoing campaigns to abolish the entire system. The two most recent bills:

In 2017, the House of Representatives Bill H.R. 29, The Tax Code Termination Act, was filed to abolish the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 by the end of 2021. The H.R. 29 bill would require Congress to approve a new federal tax system by July 4, 2021, prior to abolishing the current system.

Bill S.18, the Fair Tax Act of 2017, was introduced into Congress on January 3, 2017. The bill proposes imposing a national sales tax on the use or consumption of taxable property or services in the U.S. in place of personal and corporate income tax, employment and self-employment tax, and estate and gift taxes. The proposed sales tax rate would be 23% in 2019, with adjustments to the rate made in subsequent years. The bill includes exemptions for the tax for used and intangible property, property or services purchased for business, export or investment purposes and for state government functions. The Internal Revenue Service would be disbanded entirely, with no funding for operations authorized after 2021.

The Fair Tax Act would allow U.S. residents to receive a monthly sales tax rebate, based on household size and income and all states would be responsible for administering, collecting, and remitting sales tax to the federal government. Most significantly, the bill would terminate the national sales tax if the Sixteenth Amendment (which authorizes federal income tax) is not repealed within seven years following the bill’s enactment.

The Fair Tax Act has made little progress since its introduction. The passage of the TCJA, which made significant changes in the current tax system but reaffirmed its basic structure, makes the future of the Fair Tax Act (and the Tax Care Termination Act, as well) uncertain to unlikely.

John Buhl, former manager of media relations for the Tax Foundation, says that the recent adoption of changes to the tax code may reduce the appetite for pursuing a larger overhaul of the tax system. In addition, he notes that the new tax reform plan evolved to alleviate concerns that the original plan was designed to benefit the wealthy and that trying to replace it with a sales tax would raise similar issues of whether this would benefit wealthier Americans more. “Distributionally, replacing all federal taxes with a consumption tax would heighten those arguments,” Buhl says.

Article Sources
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  2. Library of Congress. "Historical Versions of the United States Code Now Online."

  3. United States Census Bureau. "Title 26, U.S. Code."

  4. U. S. Government Publishing Office. "Title 26: Internal Revenue Code," Page 22.

  5. Ralph H. Dwan and Ernest R. Feidler. "The Federal Statutes: Their History and Use," Page 1018-1019. Minnesota Law Review, 1938.

  6. Internal revenue Service. "Evolution of Taxes."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 5307: Tax Reform Basics for Individuals and Families," Page 1.

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Historical Highlights of the IRS."

  9. Internal Revenue Service. "The Agency, its Mission and Statutory Authority."

  10. U.S. Congress. "H.R. 29: Tax Code Termination Act,"

  11. U.S. Congress. "S.18: Fair Tax Act of 2017."

  12. U.S. Congress. "S.18: Fair Tax Act of 2017."