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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Republican IRS scare-mongering in Florida gets scary

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sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, is one of several lawmakers trying to misinform the public about the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, and the much-needed infusion of cash it will provide to the IRS. In a letter Sent on Tuesday, he warned voters not to apply for positions with the IRS, and promised to “defund” the jobs if Republicans gain control of Congress after the midterm elections.

The senator’s warning not to apply for a job in the public sector was unusual. But more troubling was how the letter blatantly misrepresents the facts and seeks to scare the public into thinking the IRS will use the additional funding to hire thousands of armed agents and threaten the lives and freedoms of Americans.

More concerning was how the letter blatantly misrepresents facts and attempts to scare the public.

Scott added that “the IRS makes it very clear that not only do you have to be ready to audit and examine your fellow hardworking Americans, your neighbors and friends, you also have to be ready and, in the words of the IRS to use, be prepared to kill them.”

This isn’t just disinformation – this is information designed to radicalize. And the consequences, as we have already seen, can be disastrous indeed.

Unfortunately, instead of appealing to a healthy sense of calm, several of Scott’s peers are actually doubling down. Senator Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, echoed Scott’s sentiments on Twitterwhere he claimed the “Democrats are making the IRS bigger than the Pentagon, the State Department, the FBI, and the COMBINED Border Patrol! Those IRS agents will come after you, not billionaires and big corporations!”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, quoted in Florida politicsadded: “Of all the things that have come out of Washington that are outrageous, this has to be pretty close to the top. I think it was really just the middle finger to the American public that this is what they think of you. “

This rhetoric is simply disconnected from reality. The IRA that Biden signed into law last Tuesday will provide stable funding over a 10-year period that will enable the IRS to hire replacement and new employees at an agency that struggles to perform basic tasks such as processing tax returns and answer phones. In addition to today’s significant challenges, the IRS has an aging workforce, with: an estimated 52,000 of the current 83,000 employees are past or nearing retirement age. Meanwhile, Congress relies on the IRS to not only collect revenue, but increasingly to provide benefits such as pandemic aid incentive payments, health care grants, and repayable credits for things like childcare, wage subsidies and electric vehicle purchases.

The IRA funding will enable the IRS to fulfill the basic tax administration duties that the American public deserves. But the extra resources could also help the agency achieve a goal Republicans and Democrats should celebrate in a healthy world: to level the playing field by tackling the sophisticated and wealthy taxpayers who have for years way too many chances to play the system and avoid paying their fair share.

Scott’s letter specifically referred to a since-deleted IRS job posting that talked about hiring special criminal investigation agents, who are authorized to carry firearms. Of the approximately 83,000 IRS employees, about 2,000 are special agents who investigate crimes. And these are the only IRS employees authorized to carry guns. The IRA does not aim to increase the number of special agents in any significant way, but rather to increase the number of auditors and collectors, as well as IT and telephone support.

More broadly, these scare tactics are part of a centuries-long tradition of trying to reverse government agencies and agents to bogeymen. As usual, this mythologization hinges on claims that democracy-supported policies pose an existentially dangerous threat to fundamental American freedoms.

There are real consequences of these lies. The rhetoric can cause physical harm to IRS employees. Recall that just over a decade ago, a longtime IRS employee was killed when a disgruntled pilot with an anti-IRS grudge flew an airplane into an IRS office. Theirs has long been a target of extremistsand the largest incident of domestic terror in the US involved an attack on a federal building in Oklahoma, with IRS employees and their children in the nursery of the building among the victims.

Today there are multiple videos on TikTok calling on citizens to take up arms against IRS employees.

Today, there are multiple videos on TikTok urging citizens to take up arms against IRS employees.

On a broader level. these lies undermine the fragile trust that is the foundation of our tax system, which relies on Americans willingly paying their fair share.

To be sure, and as with almost all giant spending bills, there are legitimate concerns about the extra IRS funding. Congress should oversee the agency’s spending priorities, such as the Promise from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the IRS will use the funds to target the wealthy and corporate taxpayers who contribute most to our tax gap.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, the percentage of voters who support the additional IRS funding is just 40 percent. least popular part of the IRAwith Americans taking a much more favorable view of the law’s limits on drug prices, clean energy investments, and the new minimum corporate tax provisions.

Scott and his ilk must love these poll numbers. And they seem more than happy to exploit them to stir up grass roots and scare Americans into thinking the IRS is coming for them. Still, we’d all be better served if politicians focused on legitimate concerns — and opportunities. Americans deserve a faster tax service, and they deserve a system that examines tax enforcement inequalities so that Americans who pay their fair share are not unfairly taxed by those who don’t.

This should not be a partisan issue, as some Republicans, such as Ohio Senator Rob Portman, have long defended.

It’s time for politicians to cut back on rhetoric and focus on improving the IRS. Can our elected officials get rid of the polarizing and dangerous demonization of the IRS? Let’s hope so before anyone else gets killed.


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