Part of the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden on Aug. 16, provides the Internal Revenue Services with an additional $80 billion to hire about 87,000 new employees over the next 10 years. Republicans are having a fit, yet if you want to understand why they are upset, remember that, according to 15 years worth of tax documents secured by The New York Times, former President Donald Trump paid no federal taxes in 10 of them.
When he did pay taxes, it wasn’t much. For example, in the year he was elected president, he paid $750 in federal income taxes, considerably less than most middle-class Americans.
This should shock all Americans, but it is repeated over and over for the richest Americans, as well as many American corporations, who seem to have tax rules that none of the rest of us enjoy. Who writes these rules? Interestingly, the same folks who don’t want to adequately fund the IRS, our nation’s tax collectors.
Republicans take care of their friends and corporate sponsors in two ways: First, they write tax laws that give them all sort of special tax breaks to their campaign contributors. Second, they defund the IRS every chance they get so that the agency is unable to investigate tax cheats. Since 2010, for example, the IRS budget has decreased by 20 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans are trying to scare folks by saying that the 87,000 new IRS employees will all be armed special agents knocking at our doors and trying to get us to pay more taxes. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz warned that the IRS was putting together “a shadow army.” Kari Lake, Republican candidate for governor in Arizona, warned, “Not a single one of us is safe.”
In fact, of the 80,000 IRS employees, less than 3 percent work in the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Department and carry a weapon. For example, in fiscal 2021, only 2,100 employees (2.6 percent) were involved in investigations, according to the IRS.
The overwhelming majority of IRS employees are accountants, secretaries, computer specialists, and other staff who sit in their offices reviewing 260 million tax returns each year or who support this primary function. People are not referred for investigation unless they fail to file a return or an audit of a return turns up something illegal.
Justine Cole, a spokesperson for the Criminal Investigation Department of the IRS, told Reuters that, “In terms of hiring, the IRS hopes to be able to hire 300 to 350 special agents during the course of this entire fiscal year and we lose between 150 to 175 special agents every year to retirement and attrition. So, even 350 new agents would only net us a gain of 150-175 agents over the course of an entire year.”
Cole added that investigations by the special agents resulted in finding more than $10 billion in tax fraud and other financial crimes in 2021. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that they will find an additional $100 billion over the next decade with the added funding, which would more than pay for the hired personnel and stop most tax cheats from not paying their fair share. IRS estimates for unpaid taxes are even higher.
In addition to hiring more employees, the IRS would use the new funding to upgrade computer systems and improve customer relations. In other words, more employees to answer phones and provide Americans with better service.
This would be a good thing for the millions of Americans and businesses still waiting for 2020 and 2021 tax forms to be processed. According to The Washington Post, the IRS has a backlog of nearly 24 million tax returns filed last year. Much of the backlog is due to the pandemic, but much of it is due to inadequate staffing.
Republicans know all of this, of course, but are against adequate funding because they don’t want the IRS to be able to audit people like Trump and their other rich friends who pay less than their fair share or nothing at all. As stated by Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC, “Look, Republicans on the right broadly want you to believe that the IRS has declared war on you, when the truth is that they have declared war on the IRS on behalf of their big donors.”
Chuck Todd of NBC news, talking to Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, said, “I just don’t get it. A lot of Republicans have talked about dealing with waste, fraud and abuse. The current head of the IRS, a Trump appointee, said he didn’t have enough people, that the biggest problem we have is that people don’t pay the taxes that they’re supposed to pay.”
Barr responded by complaining that taxes would go up for people who are cheating on their taxes.
“This bill is going to come at the expense of the American people,” Barr said.
Only if they are tax cheats, congressman.
Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.