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IRS becomes GOP boogeyman ahead of midterms

As Republicans rail against the FBI in the wake of last week’s search at Mar-a-Lago, they are also hyping the danger to voters from another three-letter federal agency: the IRS. 

The GOP is warning that the $80 billion funding boost to the IRS included in Democrats’ tax, climate and health care package, which President Biden signed into law on Tuesday, will target middle-class Americans with an “army” of new enforcement agents.

The calls have become a key part of Republicans’ messaging ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) released a video earlier this week that slams Democrats for expanding the IRS, arguing that it will harm everyday Americans despite Democrats’ insistence that the extra funding is intended to make sure wealthy taxpayers and corporations don’t stiff the government.

“Biden and Democrats are out-of-touch and do not care about the pain and suffering they are causing Americans. Democrats celebrate raising taxes on families during a recession they created and weaponizing the IRS to target small businesses and hardworking Americans,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

Democrats, the Biden administration and various fact-checkers have pushed back on the claims. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig that audit rates should not “rise relative to recent years for households making under $400,000 annually” and that new resources should not be directed to audits of families or businesses that fall below those levels. Yellen wrote that “enforcement resources will focus on high-end noncompliance.”

But Republicans counter that there is nothing in the law to prevent an increase to audits of middle-class Americans and note that Democrats voted against a GOP amendment to prevent the new funds from being used to go after lower earners.

Republicans have also frequently misstated that all the 87,000 new IRS employees will be “agents,” when many will work as support staff, auditors and replacements for those who leave the agency.

Criticisms of the messaging have not, however, led to Republicans lightening up.

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the head of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, wrote an open letter to the “American Job Seeker” on Tuesday, urging them to not take a new position with the IRS since a Republican majority would immediately attempt to reverse the funding increase.

“The IRS is making it very clear that you not only need to be ready to audit and investigate your fellow hardworking Americans, your neighbors and friends, you need to be ready and, to use the IRS’s words, willing, to kill them,” Scott said in the letter.

He was referring to a job posting for a position in IRS Criminal Investigation that mentioned a willingness to “carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force, if necessary” in its job requirements. The IRS, like the Postal Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has its own law enforcement officers. That job posting was later removed.

“We’re hiring 87,000 IRS agents. You see in the job listing posting, in the description, it says that these new hires are required to be armed, and to use deadly force if necessary. Taxation is theft, and this is armed robbery,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said last week.

Republicans have also tried to connect the new taxation fears with their base’s outrage about the FBI executing a search at former President Trump’s Florida home.

“​​The Biden Admin has fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies. And with 87K new IRS agents, they’re coming for YOU too,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted last week.

Polling sponsored by the conservative American Action Network earlier this month found that highlighting the increase in IRS employees could be effective for Republicans in some races.

Surveys in three competitive congressional districts — held by Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin in Michigan, Sean Patrick Maloney in New York and Henry Cuellar in Texas — found that half or more of likely voters were less likely to vote for the member after learning that the Inflation Reduction Act “doubles the size of the IRS by hiring 80,000 more agents, without hiring a single new border patrol agent.”

Other polling on the public’s view of the IRS is somewhat mixed. Gallup surveys found that the percentage of Americans who said that the IRS was doing an excellent or good job fell from 53 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2021. A 2020 Pew survey found that 29 percent had an unfavorable view of the IRS, while 65 percent had a favorable view.

Many Republicans have argued that instead of increasing enforcement actions, the IRS tax code should be simplified so that much enforcement is not necessary.

“I don’t engage in, like, overblown rhetoric,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told reporters last week, but he added that increasing the number of new IRS agents “does piss people off.”

“It’s kind of unnecessary,” Crenshaw said. “If you think that … the tax code is so complicated and difficult to enforce, then maybe simplify the tax code. That would be the proper solution to that instead of just trying to catch Middle America in their mistakes, which you obviously will make if you do your own taxes. It’s pretty difficult.”

Alex Muresianu, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation think tank, also said that there will “inevitably” be an increase in the number of people audited who are already paying the taxes that they owed but that they will be subjected to additional costs of compliance.

The cost estimate of that to taxpayers, though, is unclear.

Mike Lillis contributed.


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