It is not at all new that congressional debates over taxes and spending can be exasperating, but in theory, there should be far less division over whether to enforce existing tax laws. It’s law and order at its most basic: The government needs resources to function on behalf of its citizens; the government creates laws requiring citizens to pay their fair share; and the government then enforces those laws to ensure that the system works effectively.
In practice, Republicans don’t seem especially fond of this model.
As the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Plan took shape, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema fought against tax hikes and rejected her party’s plans to roll back some of the Republicans’ ineffective 2017 package of tax breaks. The solution was multifaceted, but it included a key element: Democrats would invest in the Internal Revenue Service, which would in turn better enforce the tax laws already on the books, generating billions in revenue in the process.
This satisfied Sinema. It did not satisfy Republicans — many of whom have responded with varying degrees of manufactured outrage.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, for example, desperate for a campaign issue and indifferent to accuracy, published a tweet claiming that Democrats are creating a “new army of 87,000 IRS agents” that will audit middle-class workers. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tried to tie the story to his party’s other topic du jour, writing, “After todays [sic] raid on Mar A Lago what do you think the left plans to use those 87,000 new IRS agents for?”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz went in an even more hysterical direction, tweeting, “The Manchin-Schumer bill will create 87,000 new IRS agents to target regular, everyday Americans. STOP BIDEN’S SHADOW ARMY!” It was accompanied by 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.”
Subtle, it was not.
The problem, of course, is that these scare tactics, echoed by practically every Republican with a pulse over the last week or so, aren’t true. Let’s start with the most obvious problem: There won’t be 87,000 new auditors running around. Time magazine explained this week:
A Treasury Department report from May 2021 estimated that [investments in line with the spending from the Inflation Reduction Act] would enable the agency to hire roughly 87,000 employees by 2031. But most of those hires would not be Internal Revenue agents, and wouldn’t be new positions. According to a Treasury Department official, the funds would cover a wide range of positions including IT technicians and taxpayer services support staff, as well as experienced auditors who would be largely tasked with cracking down on corporate and high-income tax evaders.
That last point was of particular interest, because while lying about the number of auditors, Republicans have also lied about who might be subjected to additional IRS scrutiny. Indeed, both the Treasury Department and the IRS itself have explicitly said audit rates won’t rise for those earning less than $400,000.
A group of former IRS commissioners from Democratic and Republican administrations not only endorsed the legislation, they added last week, “In fact, for ordinary Americans who already fulfill their tax obligations, audit scrutiny will decline, because the IRS will be better at selecting returns for examination. This bill is about getting to the heart of the problem and pursuing high-end taxpayers and corporations who today illegally evade their tax obligations.”
So why are Republicans saying the opposite? Because the truth isn’t scary — and they’re apparently having trouble finding actual flaws in the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, the pushback from the right is largely incoherent. The IRS has been gradually undermined for years, which in turn has made it far more difficult for the agency to be aggressive in pursuing tax cheats, which in turn has meant less revenue for policy priorities.
To whine incessantly about enforcing tax laws and cracking down on wealthy tax evaders is to side with criminals and tax cheats. The party that prides itself on funding the police is amazingly eager to defund the tax police.