Is Congress drinking Grover Norquist koolaid? (or will it fund IRS appropriately

by Linda Beale

Is Congress drinking Grover Norquist koolaid? (or will it fund IRS appropriately)

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman testified before the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget for the IRS. Shulman wants Congress to provide adequate funding to the IRS to support its enforcement function. The IRS has 5000 fewer employees this filing season than in 2011, and Shulman is worried about the impact of that decline in enforcement capability on compliance and collections. See Rubin, IRS Eliminated 5,000 Jobs in past year amid budget cuts, Bloomberg (Mar.21, 2012).

Now, those “starve-the-beast” types that drink the Grover Norquist koolaid are generally just eager to kill all government, and particularly government programs that help ordinary people, are concerned with the general public good, or help ensure the vitality of important government programs.

  • So it seems that the right has no trouble talking about a need to return the US’s dismal health care system back to what it was before the little bit of progress accomplished in the Obama health reform legislation–they talk about eliminating government interference, but what they mean is letting health care profit centers, doctors, and insurers continue to rip off the American public that can least afford it with rentier profits.
  • And the right has no trouble with unfunding the EPA or enacting foolish laws restricting the agency’s ability to protect ordinary Americans’ health, livelihood, and simple quality of life through much needed environmental regulations that protect, air, water, land, and natural resources for the future. Two examples–the right’s push to “drill, baby, drill” with the claim that a trickle more of US oil will dent world prices (nope); and the right’s push for the Keystone Pipeline no matter what the cost in aquifers or natural environments, even though the benefits are likely to be miniscule (VERY few jobs; no real impact on world energy prices).
  • The right wants to privatize Medicare–that means that it would take a program that has proven it can deliver health care more affordably to all its participants than privately financed “competitive” health care, and make it into its poorly functioning cousin. One suspects that the goal here is to bury a government program that is working as intended, so that it will be even harder to move to the obvious solution for health care that the rest of the developed world recognized decades ago–Medicare for all, or a “single payer” system that has clout, provides portability and fairness.

And a component of the “starve-the-best; no-tax-increases-ever” koolaid package seems to be a desire to let the rich (the natural constituents of the right) get richer by continuing to be let off the hook on paying their fair share of taxes, while the overwhelming majority of Americans slip back into a much less hospitable context of just barely getting by. Taxes, of course, are one of the ways that is done, because it is so easy to hide the real purpose under a facade of caring about deficits (cut “entitlement” programs to save money) or growth (expand subdidies for the rich, to “grow” the economy).

So the IRS suffered from budget cuts that reduced its enforcement personnel. The result, of course, means fewer trained government officers to audit taxpayers and to investigate scandals like the wealthy millionaires and billionaires hiding their wealth overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. And the danger is that criminal and civil tax evasion will be missed, because there are so few audits (only 1% audited annually) or that even compliant taxpayers will start to take their chances with the audit lottery once they realized that the IRS is part of the beast that the right is starving to death.

So Shulman is worried, he says, that budget cuts will erode voluntary compliance. He wants $12.8 billion for the IRS for the new fiscal year, an 8% increase. Rubin, IRS Eliminated 5,000 Jobs in past year amid budget cuts, Bloomberg (Mar.21, 2012).

He should get it. Every dollar spent on enforcement brings in multiples of revenues, so the cost-benefit analysis clearly favors adequately funding the IRS enforcement budget so that it can do its job. That helps in two ways–it produces revenues that reduce the deficit, and it reminds people that our voluntary compliance system is backed up by enforcement of the laws–they can’t just cheat and play the audit lottery with high hopes of getting by.

And cutting the IRS does “long-term damage”. Jose Serrano, Id.

So will Congress keep swallowing the Norquist Koolaid, or will it buckle down and make decisions that support the wellbeing of our nation and of our people? We will see.

crossposted with ataxingmatter