After House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally won the gavel after midnight early Saturday morning, the California Republican delivered prepared remarks to his colleagues.
“I know the night is late,” he declared from the dais, “but when we come back our very first bill will repeal the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents.” GOP members, convinced that the discredited claim is true, roared in approval.
Or put another way, the first legislative priority for the new House Republican majority is to undermine law enforcement.
The vow did not come as much of a surprise. McCarthy made similar comments before the midterm elections, and two weeks ago, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise unveiled an outline of the House’s plans, starting with a bill to cut funding to the Internal Revenue Service. (GOP leaders are calling the measure the “Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act.”)
The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell last week summarized the problem nicely.
House Republicans might be struggling to choose a leader, but they already know what that leader’s first order of business will be: Defunding the police. Specifically, the tax police.
It’s tempting to give McCarthy and his new majority conference credit for at least having something resembling a policy idea. Most of the party’s pre-election “Commitment to America” amounted to little more than effectively telling voters, “Elect us and we’ll do good stuff.”
The vow to repeal 87,000 IRS agents at least has the benefit of specificity. To the extent that the party wants to give the appearance of taking governing seriously, it’s good to see a policy Republicans actually want to pursue.
It’d be even better if this policy weren’t so ridiculous.
Right off the bat, as McCarthy has been told many times, the Democratic measure in question didn’t hire 87,000 IRS agents. It might seem outlandish to think Republicans are attacking a group of officials who do not actually exist.
In reality, the IRS will be bolstered by new employees, but many of them will simply replace retiring workers, and many more will simply work in the building as IT technicians and folks who answer the phone. Repeating the lie about 87,000 new IRS agents doesn’t make it any less wrong.
As a political matter, it’s also worth mentioning that even if this is the party’s “very first bill” of the new Congress, it won’t pass the Democratic-led Senate, President Joe Biden won’t sign it, and all of this posturing will amount to little more than hollow chest-thumping from a new GOP majority.
But even if we put all of these relevant details aside — we shouldn’t, of course, but if we did for the sake of conversation — there’s a bigger picture to consider. As we discussed several months ago, according to McCarthy, the very first thing House Republicans want to do with power is, in effect, help criminals by defunding law enforcement.
After all, let’s not forget why Democrats prioritized IRS funding in the first place: The governing party concluded that the government could collect more revenue without raising taxes by simply enforcing the laws already on the books. By making sure the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share, Uncle Sam could finance important priorities while leaving existing tax rates unchanged.
According to the McCarthy and GOP leaders, Republicans are desperate to undo this by defunding the tax police.
It’s going to be a long two years.