I was struck by a talking point in John James‘ remarks yesterday as he nominated Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker.

The newly elected Michigan Congressman referred to the need to “stop 87,000 new IRS agents from picking through your pocketbooks.”

(To his credit, he didn’t add the part Republicans often do about armed auditors knocking down your doors.)

There are a couple of things to say about this:

> The first is that these 87,000 new agents are not being hired to pick through your pocketbooks, they’re being hired to enforce the tax law on people and corporations much — much — richer than you.

From the Patriotic Millionaires:

. . . The ‘Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act,’ an incredibly deceptively-named piece of legislation, seeks to cut 90% of the Inflation Reduction Act’s allocated funds for the IRS. . . .

We’ve written at length about how the GOP has sabotaged the IRS over the years . . . By 2018, when Donald Trump was in office, the IRS had been so incapacitated that only 0.03% of individual returns for taxpayers making $10 million and above were audited; that number was 23% just eight years prior.

Between 2010 and 2018, Republicans blatantly crippled the IRS by cutting its budget by $2.9 billion, causing the IRS to lose a fifth of its staff. This dropped its millionaire audit rate by 71%. Between 2010 and 2017, it lost 43% of its tax technicians and 44% of its revenue officers, leaving the IRS with the same number of enforcement officers as it had in the 1950s when our economy was one-seventh the size it is now. Things haven’t been much better since. Over the last ten years, the agency has lost roughly 13% of all full-time employees.

The Inspector General for Tax Administration stated in 2020 that, between 2014 and 2016, the IRS didn’t have the resources to collect taxes from 880,000 high-income non-filers, of which the 300 biggest delinquents owed an average of $33 million.

You may be the kind of person who, waiting patiently in line, sees someone cut in in front and thinks, “yeah, man — go for it!”  More likely, you’re the kind who wishes there were a line monitor to keep people from cheating and making the wait even longer.

You may be the kind of person who learns Trump paid someone to take his SATs and think, “Damn!  Why didn’t I think of that!”  More likely, you’re the kind who wishes he had gotten caught.

Likewise, taxes: I don’t mind paying what I owe if everyone else does — “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”  But like most people, I rankled when Leona Helmsley famously said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

The law says we have to pay taxes.

If you believe in enforcing the law on the rich as well as the poor, then a reasonable amount of auditing is required . . . nuisance though it may be.  (Fortunately, rich people have accountants to absorb almost all the hassle; not so, innocent poor people stopped for, say, driving while black.)

> The second thing to say is that “defund the police” is in NO WAY the Democratic platform, just a terrible choice of words by a handful of people that was eagerly seized upon by our Republican friends. “Defund the IRS,” by contrast, has long been a bedrock of the Republican platform, embraced by almost all its elected officials.

Click here for a good summary of what’s going on.

Critics of funding the IRS warn it will breed resentment  that leads to poorer compliance and reduced tax collection from wealthy individuals and corporations.

Unlikely as that is, it does remind us that, as the “new” IRS modernizes and staffs up, it should strive always to be polite and sensible, thanking honest taxpayers for their time and cooperation — and for paying what they owe.



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