The Inflation Reduction Act, which will likely clear the House later today, is financed in part by a seemingly obvious move: enforcing existing tax laws.
The Internal Revenue Service has been gradually undermined for years, which in turn has made it far more difficult for the underfunded agency to pursue tax cheats. That, in turn, has not only allowed people to get away with breaking the laws that the rest of us followed, it’s also meant less revenue to address our policy priorities.
With this in mind, Democrats are bolstering the IRS — returning it to the levels it was at during the Bush/Cheney era — which will use its new resources to scrutinize suspected corporate and high-income tax evaders.
And this, evidently, is driving many Republicans a little bonkers.
A week ago, for example, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz published a tweet featuring an on-screen, all-caps, blood-red graphic that told people, “Biden is building a shadow army of 87,000 new IRS agents to hunt you down and take your money.” As we discussed yesterday, this was as factually wrong as it was unsubtle.
But as the week progressed, the Republican arguments took an unsettling turn. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel yesterday, for example, asked via Twitter, “How long until Democrats send the IRS ‘SWAT team’ after your kids’ lemonade stand?”
Obviously, the substance of this is absurd — Democrats don’t control IRS decisions and lemonade stands will be fine — but the implication is that IRS agents are a public menace who might, thanks to those rascally Democrats and their interest in enforcing laws, pose a societal threat.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who used to present himself as a fairly serious policymaker, appeared on Fox News yesterday and pushed a similar line:
“Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s already loaded, all ready to shoot some small-business person in Iowa with these? Because I think they’re going after middle-class and small-business people.”
First, the senator probably meant AR-15s, not AK-15s. Second, as Grassley probably knows, the IRS has already made it explicitly clear, in writing, that its focus will be on suspected corporate and high-income tax evaders, not “middle-class and small-business people.”
But more important is the picture the Iowa Republican painted for Fox News viewers: IRS officials, Grassley suggested, aren’t just going to enforce existing laws, they might also target small-business owners with assault rifles, "ready to shoot."
It’s the kind of rhetoric that appears designed to convince the public — or at least certain portions of the public — that IRS employees should be perceived as armed and potentially dangerous.
As a Washington Post analysis added yesterday, there’s plenty of related talk on the political fringe. The problem is the increasingly blurry line between the fringe and prominent Republican voices.