Defending the IRS Against Right-Wing Attacks
by Linda Beale
Defending the IRS Against Right-Wing Attacks
The IRS is a government agency that endures all kinds of hostile attacks. Most people don’t really like to pay taxes. Even I don’t really “like” paying taxes, though I do recognize the importance of paying taxes and supporting the societal infrastructure that pays for the Centers for Disease Control, basic research, the space telescope, programs for those in or near poverty, Pell Grants for students to attend college and many other important and necessary federal programs (not to mention the tax-guzzling military budget that probably could be cut in half, if only we had the gumption to do it). So the right-wing effort to “drown the government in a bathtub” and make the world safer for the corporatist elites to sock away their wealth without paying a dime to support the society that made that wealth possible tends to demonize the IRS at every possible opportunity under a Democratic president.
ASIDE: This is on a par with the way other things are treated. Reagan cut taxes in 1981 and then increased them every year thereafter, mostly increasing the burden on those in the lower end of the income distribution, so Reagan is remembered as the great tax cutter. Reagan’s administration had the Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers in their barracks, but Obama’s administration bears the millions of dollars spent in eight (and counting) investigations of the four deaths in the Benghazi attacks. There is a tendency for people to remember events and fiscal policy to suit their preconceived view of things.
So the New York Times on Friday reported on the havoc that the right’s attacks on the IRS’s budget and its employees’ morale has wrought. Congress writes the tax laws, but the right tends to talk about the executive agency as though it ‘owns’ the tax laws instead. I.R.S. Fights Back Against House Republicans’ Attacks, New York Times, Apr. 22, 2016. As the article notes, “the agency even got the blame for the hated tax code, which Congress writes and Republicans have promised for five years to rewrite and simplify.” (And remember, simplification is the wrong aim–it is part of the propaganda that wants ordinary Americans to support a tax code rewrite that tilts the code even further towards the wealthy. See the last two posts on Angry Bear.)
As certain as death and taxes, tax season political attacks on the I.R.S. go back decades. But in recent years, the intensity has grown and the agency’s funding in turn shrank more than any other time in memory. The campaign gained strength in 2013, when Republicans seized on management failures to allege that I.R.S. employees had singled out conservative groups for greater scrutiny and delays in reviewing their applications for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations, though liberal-leaning groups were examined as well, investigations showed.
Clearly, the IRS is a centrally important agency that cannot be eliminated. We need to collect taxes, and we need an agency with the expertise to advise Congress about tax law and policy as well as to interpret the laws in a way that makes it possible to implement them. (Congress has a tendency to leave anything really difficult to the IRS to figure out, by authorizing or ordering the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate regulations carrying out the intent of specific provisions.) We need to have sufficient IRS staffing to enforce the law through tough audits, especially of the wealthy and corporate enterprises. We need to have sufficient funding to maintain updated technology–one of the problems with the cuts in funding to the IRS is that the computer systems are more easily hacked than they should be. That fault lies with Congress, which expects managerial miracles from an agency with constant battering from the right-wing to try to demoralize its employees and constant resource cuts that make budget planning and regular maintenance of systems practically impossible. When Congress adds additional functions to the agency (whether in the form of additional tax systems to oversee, such as the penalty provisions in the Affordable Care Act, or additional tax expenditures operating as a subsidy to one or another of Congress’s favored groups, such as the section 199 “manufacturing” deduction) but fails to add funding to cover the additional responsibility, it means that the IRS’s ability to carry out its task well will be jeopardized, and service to taxpayers will decline.
“The Congress on one hand adds complexity to the tax system by the tax laws they enact but will not recognize the costs and administrative burdens placed on the agency to carry out the laws it passes,” said G. William Hoagland, who was a senior budget adviser to Senate Republican leaders for more a quarter-century.
The fact is, the IRS makes money when Congress gives it funding to ensure tax compliance: as the article states (and many studies support), “the agency collects at least $4 for every $1 it spends for tax compliance.” Former IRS commissioners–during Republican and Democratic administrations–therefore joined together to urge Congress to undo the perverse results of underfunding the IRS.
“Over the last 50 years, none of us has ever witnessed anything like what has happened to the I.R.S. appropriations over the last five years and the impact these appropriations are having on our tax system,” they wrote.
Federal reports document the impact. Tax audits are at the lowest level in a decade, affecting fewer than 1 percent of taxpayers. Reduced efforts to enforce compliance cost an estimated $6 billion in uncollected revenues in 2014 and $8 billion in 2015. The I.R.S. has a backlog of almost a million pieces of correspondence from taxpayers.
Stan Collender, a budget analysis, is right when he says (as quoted in the article):
“You really shouldn’t be able to reduce the amount you spend on I.R.S., decrease their performance ability and then complain about their performance.”
cross posted with ataxingmatter
I’m constantly surprised that the Republicans haven’t resurrected the idea of using publicans, private tax collectors empowered by the state, to replace the IRS. It had such a good reputation back during the day of the Roman pricipate and empire and later during the time of Bourbon France. Of course, the outcomes for those polities wasn’t so good, but, heh, it’s the principle (or in the case of Republicans, “principal”) of the thing. By using private contractors, the whole process falls under the rubric of “contract” and we all know Republicans thinks those are sacred too. I’m just waiting for them to finally twig to the idea of privatizing the military as well.
The CDC, subsidized student loans, Pell Grants, The VA, etc. are all under similar attack fromKoch Bros Libertarian and Repub Conservatives ideology the same as the IRS. And you are right, it is all about me (them) and I got mine on my own (theoretically) and you must get yours on your own.
The pentagon runs about $400B a year in contracts.
Almost all R&D (most of that appropriation goes to contracts) is privatized and most all procurement appropriation (except military personnel civilian employees doing contract “work”).
A lot of operations and maintenance appropriation goes on contract as well.
The pentagon cannot live without the F-35’s revolving door at $1.4T over 30 odd years.
I agree with Dan’s post. My only comment is that while currently it is right wingers who push tax simplification, this does not need to be the case. It is completely possible to formulate tax simplification schemes that would be progressive. I note that the first to propose tax simplification were moderately liberal Dems, Bradley and Gephardt back in the mid-1980s.
” …. moderately liberal Dems, Bradley and Gephardt back in the mid-1980s. ”
aka , neoliberals.
aka , kinder-and-gentler Republicans.
No thanks. Had my fill of that scam.
Marko, The Overton box is so far right that neoliberals are lefties. Bernie would be pretty close to JFK in 1960.
Remember republicans before voodoo!
Bradley was a neo liberal?
Someday the self described(and pure) progressives will figure out where they live and whom they live with.
But no today.
Who am I kidding?
They’ll never figure it out.
As PrahaPartizan, has noted taxes were a gift of Roman times. The real gift started with a gift of debt to have a reason to tax and then confiscate conquered peoples land.
What we have today are thousand page documents meant for confusion or avoidance. Which are mostly bad for the majority of the citizens.
I really needed an open blog today as this morning I again hear Hillary saying on the news to the coal miners that she didn’t mean what she said about their jobs going away. She said her comment and meaning was unintended. How many times do we have to hear her say that something she did or said was unintended? I hope the voters will get tired of all the unintended consequences from her before the general election. I’m sure you can find some unintended consequences related to her and the tax code if you looked deep enough.
What you say is true and I have grave reservations regarding Clinton’s loyalties. I don’t see her as being very different from the first Clinton presidency which brought us financial industry decontrol. Billy signed the legislation that made Phil Gramm a very wealthy UBS employee after retirement.
But what is the alternative? My greatest dissatisfaction is just that. We are always being offered a choice. Either the new reactionary assholes of the Republican Party. And they’re all the same. Even the so called moderates all vote on unison with their craven leaders. Or we can select someone from the Democratic Party like Clinton, still under the influence of the DLC. Modern DLC Democrats are little different from the moderate Republicans of the ’60s.
Whether or not you like either Bradly or Gephartdt or their particular proposal or however you want to label them, it remains a fact that it is possible to formulate a tax simplification scheme that is progressive. That current progressives are not doing so is both lazy and stupid and also ceding good political ground to the conservatives, especially given that as a general argument the extreme complicatedness of the US tax code is a blithering outrage.
I’m all for progressive taxation , and the simpler , the better ( almost always true , see, e.g. Glass-Steagal ). I’d also agree that it has been a huge mistake by Sanders ( to use the most obvious progressive example ) not to push hard on tax simplification along with steeper progressivity. What I object to is the idea that we’re going to get any such system from mainstream Dems that would be even remotely socially just.
And yes , EMichael , Bradley was a flaming neoliberal , and a proud one at that , judging by this ’82 Esquire cover shot :
…also see Rothenberg’s 1984 book , ” The neoliberals: Creating the new American politics ” :
You’re not fooling anyone , EMichael. You’re easily figured out , even by us dim-bulb progressives.