Punishing the IRS by crippling it


CONGRESSIONAL Republicans adore playing political soccer with the Internal Revenue Service: They gleefully kick the IRS around, especially at election time, to prove their distaste for Big Government.

But do they ever commit government cash to help reform the agency? No. They want nothing to do with fixing what they claim is broken.

Their games continued yesterday as Senate Republicans haggled over sending the president new veto bait -- an appropriations bill with $300 million less than he sought to overhaul the IRS.

Republicans didn't want to give the IRS money for new computers or to implement new customer services required under a 1998 law.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., summed it up when he said the IRS needs a big funding increase to keep pace with its workload, but that the GOP has "an ambivalence about the IRS." After all, it makes such an inviting political target.

It's an especially rich target when politicians manipulate the facts about the IRS "abusing" taxpayers. These gripping tales led to tough changes two years ago.

But now it turns out the stories were false. Two studies, by the General Accounting Office and by a blue-ribbon panel, debunked tales of oppressive harassment.

Are Republicans, especially Sen. William V. Roth of Delaware, contrite? No chance. They're still bashing the IRS.

The president should veto this bill until Republicans put up the money to replace 30-year-old computer technology and add workers so the IRS can reverse an alarming drop in audits and enforcement actions against tax deadbeats.

It's time to stop the political pandering and start making government efficient. IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, a former management consultant, has won praise for changes he has made. But that's not enough.

IRS reforms will be costly. Republicans in Congress should swallow hard and ante up.

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