Shortly before the Inflation Reduction Act passed in the U.S. Senate, a poll of more than 2000 Americans was released showing nearly half — 45% — expressed grave reservations about a provision of the bill giving the U.S. Internal Revenue Service the authority to hire nearly 87,000 new agents.
The White House must have been paying attention. In the days and hours leading up to the vote on it by the U.S. House of Representatives, the president’s spokesperson and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went to great lengths to assure the American people, never mind nervous congressional Democrats, that all these new agents would be administrative. Charges they would be put to work conducting random audits of middle- and working-class taxpayers were, they said, Republican spin.
That’s hard to believe, given the bill itself said only 4% of the new authorization was dedicated to improving customer service. The more than $200 billion in new revenue projected to come in because these agents have been hired (what’s being blithely referred to as “increased IRS enforcement”) can only be found in the pockets of middle- and working-class Americans. Unlike the superrich, they can’t and don’t employ armies of attorneys and accountants to ensure they don’t pay, as President Biden might say, “one thin dime” more in taxes than the law requires.
Democrats have become so cynical about the upper class they conflate tax evasion — not paying taxes you lawfully owe — with tax avoidance. As they see it, if you make “enough” money, then it is somehow unfair you don’t pay more, even if you don’t owe it.
The friends of the taxpayers in Congress can still try to quash the proposal. They can, for example, insist any omnibus spending bill keeping the government open past Sept. 30 should not only run into next year but should claw back the authorization for the IRS new hires.
The voters back home would probably approve. Why the IRS, a still-functioning agency as far as anyone who ever had their application for non-for-profit status blocked by Lois Lerner’s people will attest, needs more money is not clear, despite what its officials say. Why not redirect the funding to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, a badly underfunded and unstaffed agency critical to U.S. national security? Providing money to hire more tax collectors rather than secure the border is not a rational act when federal revenue is rising, as it now is.
The point would be made, even if it were to fail as it likely would, so there needs to be a Plan B. That could, and probably should be, a promise from House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy that H.R. 1 — a numeration reserved for the most important legislation under consideration in any single Congress — will be a measure repealing everything Congress just passed to increase the size and power of the IRS if the voters give the GOP a majority in the fall election.
If there’s one federal agency crying to get its wings clipped, it’s the IRS. The people who work there need a reminder — from the commissioner on down to the parking garage guards — that even IRS agents work for the American people, not the other way around. A measure stripping the new hires out, forcing the agency to make do, would be an important lesson for them and us about who is in charge.
If the goal really is to simplify the collection of taxes due, then Congress should pass and the president should sign something that looks like the Steve Forbes 17% flat tax proposal with returns filed on a postcard. Low rates and limited deductions are the best way to eliminate cheating. If the objective is weaponizing the IRS as the nation’s political divides harden, hiring more agents is one of those things you would want to do.
The Democrats are going to spend September trying to sell IRS lemonade — faster refunds, quicker processing of returns, more people to answer the phones — to the people. Let them. The Republicans should keep casting this as the public policy lemon it is.
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