The picture the best Republican painted was both vivid and terrifying. He warned that additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service would lead to armed auditors knocking on front doors to extract hard-earned dollars from American workers.
“Are they going to have a strike force coming in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot a small business in Iowa with those?” said Senator Chuck Grassley on Fox News last week.
The image evoked by Grassley bears little resemblance to reality. Democrats have indeed directed nearly $80 billion to the IRS over the next 10 years as part of their climate and health care spending agenda, the Inflation Reduction Act, which Joe Biden signed into law on Tuesday.
But Republican lawmakers have been spreading hyperbolic and often false information about how those funds will be used, stoking outrage among their supporters and alarming experts who say the claims could increase the risk of political violence.
Grassley is far from alone in conjuring up the image of armed listeners. Based on a job offer For the IRS Criminal Investigations Unit, which represents only a small fraction of the agency’s employee base, prominent Republicans and conservative media figures have falsely claimed that the Democrats’ bill would arm tens of thousands of new listeners.
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade has warned his viewers that Joe Biden’s “new army” of armed tax operatives could “hunt down and kill middle-class taxpayers who aren’t paying enough,” while Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has suggested Democrats may soon “send the IRS ‘SWAT team’ after your kids’ lemonade stand.”
Such dubious claims have even made their way to the House floor. As the House debated the Cut Inflation Act last Friday, far-right Congresswoman Lauren Boebert equated expanding IRS resources with “committing armed robbery against Americans.”
That comment prompted a rebuke from John Yarmuth, the Democratic chairman of the House budget committee.
“This is Republicans making this up to scare the American people,” Yarmuth said in response to Boebert’s remarks. “I implore my fellow Republicans to stop the scare tactics, to stop making things up and debating the substance of this bill.”
The substance of the Inflation Reduction Act tells a far different story than that propagated by some Republican lawmakers. The sweeping bill includes a number of provisions aimed at lowering Americans’ healthcare costs and reducing global warming emissions, marking the nation’s most significant effort yet to address the climate crisis.
The cost of the legislation is covered by a series of tax changes – including a new corporate minimum tax and a tax on corporate purchases of their own shares – as well as enhanced IRS enforcement. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the additional funding from the IRS will bring in about $200 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, more than covering the cost of the agency’s larger budget.
Republicans claimed it would lead to additional audits for hundreds of thousands of middle-class Americans.
“Do you earn $75,000 or less? Democrats’ new army of 87,000 tax officials will come and get you,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement. a tweet Last week.
The 87,000 number has been cited several times by Republicans, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect how IRS funds will be used. The number seems to come from a board buried in a Treasury Department Report 2021 on the need to increase the IRS budget.
But IRS leaders note that the agency has not yet set out specific plans for how the funds will be used over the next decade, and any new staff hired will fill a variety of roles.
While more than half of the IRS’ new funds are earmarked for enforcement purposes, the agency also intends to use the money to improve its customer service and information technology, which have both suffered in recent years due to repeated budget cuts.
Between 2010 and 2018, budget cuts led to a 22% drop in the total number of IRS employees, while the number of people working in enforcement roles dropped by 30%.
These staff cuts have made it harder for average Americans to reach an IRS employee who might be able to answer basic questions about their tax returns. Fewer than 15,000 IRS employees handled nearly 200 million calls received in the first half of 2021.
And among revenue officers and revenue officers who handle the most complicated audits, the losses were even more severe, with about 40% of those employees leaving the agency.
It seems to have benefited America’s wealthiest residents and the biggest corporations. With fewer experienced IRS staff available to analyze complicated returns, audit rates for these groups have dropped dramatically.
Between 2010 and 2018, the percentage of audits performed on individual tax returns showing more than $10 million in annual income fell from 18.4% to 6.7%, according to the Treasury Department. said. Over the same period, companies with assets worth more than $20 billion saw their audit rate fall from 98% to 49.3%.
“The impact of these budget cuts has been most helpful for high-income and wealthier businesses and most harmful for ordinary filers who are not represented by lawyers or accountants,” said Chye-Ching Huang, executive director of tax law. New York University Center.
Huang noted that the disproportionate decline in audits of wealthier Americans can be partly attributed to the fact that audits of lower-income people are generally easier to conduct, which means IRS employees need fewer training to carry them out. As more experienced auditors left the agency, audits declined overall, and low-income Americans became a greater proportion of the population under scrutiny by the IRS.
“The IRS doesn’t have the resources it needs to handle complex returns from very wealthy filers and large corporations, and that’s what the [Inflation Reduction Act] is destined to reverse,” Huang said.
Indeed, Democrats have promised that the additional IRS funding will be used specifically to stamp out tax non-compliance among America’s wealthiest and biggest corporations. In a letter sent to the IRS Commissioner last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “Contrary to misinformation from opponents of this legislation, small businesses or households earning $400,000 a year or less will not see no increase in the chances of them being audited. .”
But assurances from the Biden administration and various fact checks Reputable news organizations haven’t stopped Republicans from arguing that middle-class Americans should expect armed tax officials to come knocking on their doors.
“These IRS agents are designed to go after you. They’re not designed to go after billionaires and big corporations,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz told Fox News earlier this month. designed to tackle small businesses and working families across the country.”
Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M University professor and historian of American political rhetoric, said Republicans’ messaging about IRS provisions serves to obscure their own tax agendas.
“Since they can’t say they want low taxes for the wealthy and corporations – or, along the same lines, they don’t want to fund the IRS – they’re instead claiming the rights of the average American are in danger,” Mercieca said. .
Some Republican lawmakers have gone so far as to tie increased IRS funding directly to the recent FBI research of Donald Trump’s Florida resort.
“After [today’s] raid on Mar A Lago, why do you think the left is planning to use these 87,000 new tax agents? Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a tweet Last week.
With support for political violence on the rise In the United States, experts fear that Republican leaders’ fear campaign over IRS funding is increasing the risk of attacks on government officials. Anger over the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago has already sparked a spike in threats against officers and bureau offices, and a man was fatally shot last week after attempting to break into the FBI office in Cincinnati.
“What leaders say matters, and people listen to political elites,” said Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor and expert on extreme partisanship.
Mason added: “Given the number of threats we see against FBI offices, it’s pretty clear that adding a new target to people who already feel angry, attacked and victimized is not a good idea.”
Democratic members of Congress have also tried to sound the alarm about the potential ramifications of Republican criticism of the IRS budget.
“The inflammatory conspiracy theories Republicans are pushing about armed tax officials are growing increasingly dangerous and out of control,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said last week. “It’s unbelievable that we even need to say this, but there won’t be 87,000 armed IRS agents going door to door with assault weapons.”