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Senate Democrat blasts tax rebate letter

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Senate Democrat on Tuesday criticized a letter the Internal Revenue Service will send to taxpayers ahead of a tax rebate check as "political rhetoric."

The letter informs taxpayers they will receive a rebate check this summer as part of the recently passed tax cut -- and credits Congress and President Bush for the windfall.

"This letter is imbued with political rhetoric," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "And it leads to the inevitable conclusion that its purpose was not informative but rather, political. It risks harming the reputation of the IRS, sets an unfortunate precedent, and wastes millions of dollars."

Text of IRS letter  

CNN was given a copy of the letter by a Democratic staff member in the House. It promises the recipient "long-term tax relief" in addition to the upcoming check. The staffer said he received it from career IRS employees upset by what they called its political and congratulatory tone.

The Bush administration defended the letter and said the idea for it originated at the IRS. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the agency was concerned its phone lines would be overwhelmed if rebate checks began showing up without explanation.

"They are in the best position of anybody in the government to know whether or not receipt of 100 million unexplained checks is all of a sudden going to cause more problems," Fleischer said. "So the IRS is sending out the notice as part of their routine communications, properly so."

IRS officials told the White House they were prohibited by government regulation from including the explanatory letter in the same envelope with the rebate checks, an administration official said.

Schumer called the move "silly."

"The mailing is both political and unnecessary," he said. "It announces that taxpayers will receive the rebate check in the mail. It's a little silly to go to the expense of sending out 90 million letters to give a two-week heads-up on the checks going out in the mail."

• The Internal Revenue Service Web Site

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