It Would Be Nice If Republicans Would Actually Read A Bill

Republicans have made a drama out of legislation to hire some 87,000 IRS employees. Either they don't understand the bill, or they're pretending not to.
From left to right: House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) talks to reporters during a news conference with Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.), Rep. Michael Cloud (R-La.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Jan. 10 in Washington, D.C.
From left to right: House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) talks to reporters during a news conference with Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.), Rep. Michael Cloud (R-La.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Jan. 10 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
|

While President Joe Biden’s document drama puts him in a tricky political situation, let’s not lose sight of the Republican Party’s “to be continued” style of incompetent governance.

Looking back at their first two weeks running the House of Representatives, you have to conclude one of two things: Either Republicans are stupid, or they think their constituents are.

Voters sent a clear message in the midterms: We’re tired of “crazy.” We want bipartisanship, not extremism.

Moreover, supporters of abortion rights, angered by the Supreme Court’s unraveling of Roe v. Wade, turned out in droves and delivered several key elections for Democrats, according to CNN exit polling. Republicans surely would have liked to win some of those districts, no?

So, what happened? Week one: Republican extremists turned the speakership vote into Crazy Town.

Week two: Republicans passed a pair of anti-abortion bills and, in a real insult to everyone’s intelligence, voted to repeal tens of billions of dollars in IRS funding via the so-called Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act. Consider this tweet from Rep. Ashley Hinson (R), of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District:

A screenshot of a tweet from Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa).
A screenshot of a tweet from Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa).
Twitter

Look, you can have your opinion on abortion, and maybe you like the extremists, but can someone please read a bill? Or at least listen to some “Schoolhouse Rock”?

You have to love how these hoopleheads clamored for a rule requiring bills to be released at least 72 hours before a floor vote so lawmakers would have ample time to read them. At the same time, they had seven months to read the Inflation Reduction Act, but evidently couldn’t pencil that in. Passed in August, the act explains — justifies, really — its nearly $80 billion in IRS funding.

Incidentally, Democrats implemented that 72-hour rule in 2019 when Republicans rammed through a tax bill just hours after introducing a final version.

Hinson is probably just repeating what Republican leaders are saying now. Or what any Republican with a pulse was shrieking last summer. Or the howls of the campaign ads and political mailers you might have seen ahead of the November midterms: Eighty-seven thousand new IRS agents to audit small businesses and hard-working Americans!

Even seasoned Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who you’d think would know to read a bill, have been in full scaremongering mode, all deploying the same talking points.

Here’s the reality: The IRS is understaffed, overwhelmed and digitally dated. Thirty years ago, the IRS had 117,000 employees. Today, it has 78,000. It faces an expected wave of 50,000 retirements this decade. Its budget has been slashed by nearly 20% since 2010.

These circumstances have created a massive backlog. For example, according to the Treasury Department, nearly 200 million taxpayers called the IRS for assistance in the first half of 2021. There were 15,000 employees available to assist them. That’s one person for every 13,000 calls.

Funding from the Inflation Reduction Act aims to address these shortfalls by hiring 87,000 new IRS employees ― over the next 10 years, not all at once. And most of the hires will be to replace all those retirees.

So, dear Republican voter, did your favorite lawmaker explain any of that to you? No? Why not?

Will all the money go toward hiring IRS agents to audit taxpayers? Nope.

· $45.6 billion will go toward hiring more enforcement agents, shoring up legal support and investing in “investigative technology.”

· $25.3 billion will cover routine costs, like rent, facilities, printing and postage.

· $3 billion will go to customer services, such as prefiling assistance and education, and the possibility of creating a free direct e-file program.

· $5 billion will go toward modernizing the IRS’s business systems and customer service technology. Some agency computers still use programming language that dates back to the 1960s.

So, Republican voter: Why didn’t your favorite lawmakers explain that? Maybe they didn’t read the bill ― or reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Treasury Department, the Congressional Research Service or the Congressional Budget Office, or even a letter from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to the IRS commissioner, affirming these commitments ― which means they didn’t do their job. Maybe they’re just repeating someone else’s talking points. Maybe they’re stupid enough to believe those talking points ― or maybe they think you are. Maybe they think you’re too lazy to do your own research to learn what’s in the legislation.

Feel better?

Audits have declined most dramatically for the wealthy. For example: In 2012, the percentage of companies with at least $20 billion in assets subjected to audit was 93%. By 2020, it was just 38%.

The resulting tax gap — what people owe versus what they pay — is estimated to be more than $600 billion. Much of this is due to drastic cuts in the IRS’s budget, courtesy of Tea Party fanatics a decade ago.

Since then, the number of IRS auditors has fallen by more than 40% even as the tax code has gotten more complex. The agency’s auditors are no match for the battery of pricey accountants and tax attorneys who help the affluent avoid or evade their tax obligations.

Sidebar: In the past decade, the tax code has been amended or revised more than 4,000 times. Keep in mind that the agency doesn’t make those changes; Congress does. So while Congress was making tax law more complex, it gelded the agency tasked with tending to its directives.

The poster boy for this is former President Donald Trump. We still don’t know why the IRS didn’t enforce its own policy of mandatory audits of the sitting president.

If you hate paying taxes, you should really hate the people who don’t pay their fair share. If the uber-wealthy don’t pay all the taxes they legally owe, guess who makes up the difference through higher tax rates? You and me. As Leona Helmsley supposedly said, “Only the little people pay taxes.”

Taxes are monies we pay for services we say we want. Less tax revenue means more borrowing to pay for those services, which increases the deficit.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office notes that without the new funding, the deficit would actually grow by about $114 billion over the next decade. In other words, the repeal would cost more than the actual funding. How’s that for stupid?

Sorry, but I don’t like being robbed by tax cheats. I want lots of IRS agents to keep them from picking my pocket. There is another consequence to all this neutering: The worse IRS customer service gets, the more cheating the wealthy can get away with, causing the rest of us to become more resentful toward and fearful of the agency.

The idea of the “overbearing IRS” is just another shibboleth Republicans use to rile up their base for the benefit of the GOP’s fat cats while securing votes for reelection. No honest, conscientious American has anything to fear from the IRS. Indeed, polls have repeatedly shown that most Americans regard paying taxes as a civic duty.

Remember: This month, a New York judge fined the Trump Organization $1.6 million (the max allowed by law) after convictions on 17 counts of tax fraud. Meanwhile, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg drew five months in prison for his involvement in the tax scams. These are the people who hate and fear the IRS.

How can Republicans continually whine about the deficit when they’re trying to undercut the means to collect the money that would help reduce it?

They whine about waste, but they waste time and tax dollars on votes for bills they know won’t go anywhere in the Senate, let alone survive a presidential veto. Where do they think the funding for their pork projects comes from? Magic?

Maybe you think taxes should be higher or lower, or that we should have a more simplified tax code. But so long as we have taxes (and unless you want anarchy, we need taxes), we’ll need an agency to manage and administer those monies, and to ensure that citizens and businesses are playing by the rules. And that agency must be properly staffed and funded.

House Republicans claim they want the IRS to function better. If they want a smaller, more efficient and effective government, they should be the first ones to leave ― especially the ones running interference and engaging in performance politics solely to score cheap points.

Unless, of course, we learn that the IRS funded Hunter Biden’s laptop. Ah, it’s all coming together now!

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Rep. Ashley Hinson deleted a tweet; it has not been deleted.

Go To Homepage

Before You Go