Is The IRS Coming To *Actually Kill You*, Check One Box
A helpful Wonkette factcheck, you're welcome!
I spent all day listening to the House debate on the Inflation Reduction (But Really Mostly Climate) Act before it passed (yay!), and among Republicans' favorite lies about the bill, there's one that they really, really love. As you've probably heard, the tax incentives and grants that will help the US seriously begin to transition to a clean energy economy will be paid for by a 15 percent minimum tax on corporate profits, as well as by ramping up the IRS's ability to go after tax cheats. To make catching tax cheats feasible, the bill provides $78 billion over 10 years to build the IRS workforce up to where it was a decade ago, and to help drag the IRS's antiquated technology and systems into the current century. Now you know just exactly what the facts is.
Out of that fairly unremarkable provision, Republicans and rightwing media have whipped up a panic with a couple of connected lies. The first is that the IRS is hiring an "army" of 87,000 new auditors that it plans to sic on YOU, the ordinary Fox-watching taxpayer. That is a lie. The second, andeven more far-fetched lie, suggests that the "army" of auditors will include an actualarmy, or at least scary strike teams of heavily armed IRS agents that might burst into your home and shoot you if you had an error on your 1040. And for good measure, the lying liars round up the $78 billion to "$80 billion," and never once say that the new money and hiring will happen over 10 years, because "$7.8 billion a year" just doesn't sound nearly as scary.
Again, there's no truth to that shit sandwich of lies: The bill does direct the IRS to collect legally owed taxes from high income tax cheats, and to do so, the agency will indeed hire a lot of new employees. Some of them will probably even work on audits. But mostly, the new funding is there to restore the staffing levels that have been gutted by budget cuts, and to modernize the IRS's information tech, so that the agency can do its job — including answering taxpayer phone calls! — after many years of running on a shoestring.
Why Does The IRS Need $78 Billion Over 10 Years? Let Us Count The Ways
Before we do the debunking of all that bullshit, which will no doubt be with us as a GOP scare story even into election season, let's just remind you why the IRS needs $78 billion in funding to shore up its workforce and modernize its technology. The simple answer is "Congressional Republicans," who set to work chopping the IRS budget as soon as they took control of the House of Representatives in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
For more than a decade, the agency has been underfunded and understaffed, with predictable results: slow service, an increasing workload, and not much hope of increased funding, because after all, government is the problem, and you certainly can't fix a government agency by throwing money at it. Even if you broke the agency in the first place by starving it of funds.
To get a sense of how bad things have gotten at the IRS, please read this paywall-free Washington Post story about the incredibly rickety system the IRS uses at its Austin processing center, where every flat surface is covered in paperwork. The agency has a "backlog of 10.2 million unprocessed individual returns," due partly to the pandemic, but also
the agency’s embarrassingly outdated, paper-based system, which leaves stacks and stacks of returns cluttering shelves, hallways and even the cafeteria.
It used to be a cafeteria, at least; now it's an endless hellscape of paper tax returns. The problems started well before the budget cuts, which accelerated them: The equipment is old, the computers are old, and a machine that opens and sorts mail at the Austin center is so old that its manufacturer went out of business long ago. When a part breaks, the one person who knows how to fix it has to fabricate new parts by hand.
Yes, most Americans now file their taxes electronically, but if anything goes wrong, all follow-up communication about your return has to be taken care of by mail. Or if you're into modern technology, by fax.
You get the idea. It's not that the IRS is too stupid or set in its ways to make the system less clunky, it's that they're operating a system held together by post-its and rubber bands.
The Audit Gap
And hey, about those audits: Back in 2018, ProPublica reported that thanks to all the shortages of staff and funding, the number of audits had fallen off sharply in the last decade. And on top of that, pressure from Republicans in oversight roles had pushed the agency to change who it was actually auditing, so that in 2017, lower-income people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers with income between $200,000 and $500,000. Only households with income above $1 million were examined at significantly higher rates.
Put another way, as the IRS has dwindled in size and capability, audits of the poor have accounted for more of what it does. Last year, the IRS audited 381,000 recipients of the EITC. That was 36 percent of all audits the IRS conducted, up from 33 percent in 2011, when the budget cuts began.
In that 2018 story, in fact, Sen Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who now chairs the Senate Finance Committee, noted that there's something seriously screwy when "Those struggling to make ends meet are being unfairly audited while the fortunate few dodge taxes without consequence. [...] The IRS needs more manpower to go after tax cheats of all sizes, and working Americans need a simpler way of obtaining a tax credit they’ve earned."
Oh golly, it's like looking back through space-time with a telescope and seeing the genesis of the $78 billion in new funding for the IRS! As Wyden said, the funds — again, over a decade, not tomorrow afternoon — will allow the IRS to once again go after actual tax cheats who can pay accountants to help them avoid millions of dollars in taxes, instead of folks who make minimum wage and received a refund of a few hundred dollars more than they should have.
And Now The Lying Liars Of The GOP
As this excellent Time magazine fact-check explains, the IRS plans to use the increased funding to upgrade its equipment and to 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 information comes straight from Treasury Department spokesperson Natasha Sarin. (Alex Jones will now point out her name is a type of poison gas, so maybe she doesn't really exist.) She also pointed out that more than half the agency's 78,000 employees are already eligible to retire, and are likely to leave in the next five years. All told, over the coming decade, the agency might well hire 87,000 people, but with that big wave of attrition, the new hiring will amount to a net gain of around 20,000 to 30,000 new workers over a decade, most of them in non-auditing roles.
In other words, the IRS will return to something like its staffing level before the cuts started. People who call with questions about their taxes will actually be able to talk to a human being again, refunds will be processed sooner, and yes, high-income folks will start paying their fair share again.
So finally the lies, since you now know exactly how deeply dishonest they are. In the run-up to yesterday's passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (hooray again!), the rightwing lie machine was in full swing. One typical bad take last week came from Marco Rubio, who pounced on rightwing outrage over the FBI searching Donald Trump's trash palace to suggest that the IRS will come after all the top secret nuclear weapons plans YOU haven't paid taxes on:
“After todays raid on Mar A Lago what do you think the left plans to use those 87,000 new IRS agents for?”
— Marco Rubio (@Marco Rubio) 1660003933
It will use them to make the IRS work the way it should, Marco .
Then there's the far more dangerous lie about the increased funding, which as Philip Bump explains at the Washington Post is yet another recycling of old, old rightwing paranoia. Like many other federal agencies ( too many, we'd argue ), the IRS has its own enforcement arm, called the Criminal Investigation Unit, and by golly, the literal tax police have guns, for which they buy ammunition. The unit has about 2,200 special agents, and they all do training and replace old ammo and stuff.
Out of the existence of the same annual ammo budget as ever, and an employment ad recruiting new officers for that very small police force, the Right constructed yet another bullshit conspiracy theory suggesting that jackbooted federal thugs will come to take your guns and your undeclared income. You know, just like when all conservatives were rounded up and sent to FEMA camps during Jade Helm 15 .
That's how we got Brian Kilmeade warning Fox News viewers that the IRS would now be coming to their homes to kill them over taxes:
“Brian Kilmeade just said that the IRS is "Joe Biden's new army" that will "hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers that don't pay enough"”
— Kat Abu (@Kat Abu) 1660264649
And Sen. Chuck Grassley Just Asking whether the IRS would "have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s … ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa?”
““Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s … ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa?” — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speculates on what the IRS will do with their increase in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act”
— The Recount (@The Recount) 1660233474
It all culminated in Lauren Boebert ranting against the bill yesterday , claiming that all 87,000 new IRS employees would be coming to kill you. Not surprisingly, the rant was a big hit with wingnuts, because look at her refusing to be silenced!
“Lauren Boebert will not be silent "The inflation reduction act is just another con game by the Democrats calling something one thing and saying another... This bill hires 87,000 IRS agents and they are armed and the job description tells them to use deadly force if necessary"”
— Liberty4All 🇺🇸 (@Liberty4All 🇺🇸) 1660407152
Again, that's all bullshit. Happily, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) called Boebert out on her lies, noted there won't be any damn army of IRS agents, and for fuckssake could we please at least debate something that's real?
“Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) fires back at Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) over her ludicrous claim that IRS agents will commit "armed robbery" with IRA funding: "I know that Ms. Boebert would like everybody to be armed, as they are in her restaurant, but that's not what IRS agents do."”
— The Recount (@The Recount) 1660323262
In conclusion, YAY for funding the IRS, please bookmark this post for when the GOP starts ranting about the IRS army again as the midterms get close, and I should not be allowed to write anything on a weekend when I don't have a deadline, the end.
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