Tax Analysts Blog

House Republicans Would Rather Pander than Fix the IRS

Posted on Jul 9, 2013

Nice to see that House Republicans are staying true to form. Faced with the prospect of actually governing, they’ve once again chosen to pander and pose instead. Unfortunately, taxpayers are going to pay the price for this predictability.

Earlier today, the House Appropriations Committee released a bill that would cut funding for the IRS by 24 percent from its fiscal 2013 level. Apparently, that reduction is a necessary response to "recent inappropriate actions" at the IRS, including silly videos, pricey conferences, and bungled exemption applications.

House Republicans think such problems can be solved with a budgetary cleaver. And they’ve been signaling their intention to do some heavy chopping for weeks. "I don't need to remind you or anybody else that the power of the purse rests with the Congress, and we're prepared to use that purse to get to the truth," warned Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers, D-Ky., on June 3.

Today's bill makes good on that threat. And according to GOP leaders, it will also help protect Americans from a rogue agency. "The public is feeling a growing sense of distrust of what this administration and what Washington is doing," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in comments today. "And that’s why we in the House this month will be taking up a package of bills to stop this government abuse and put the American people first."

Unfortunately, the American people are the ones who will pay the price for budgetary punishment directed at the IRS. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson recently urged Americans to "wake up to the consequences of shrinking the IRS budget." Funding cuts have decimated the agency's core functions, she said, "virtually eliminating funding for training, reducing taxpayer service to laughable levels (if it weren’t so sad), and undertaking enforcement actions before any meaningful attempt to communicate with taxpayers — in short, reducing taxpayers to widgets and dehumanizing them into objects that need to be 'processed efficiently.'"’

Beating up on the IRS is good fun, at least for a party that has put anti-tax rhetoric at the center of its electoral appeal. But since Americans are going to be paying taxes for some time to come – regardless of who wins control of the House, the Senate, or the White House – that rhetoric is also likely to cause some real unhappiness, at least to the extent that it gets translated into real budgets.

House Republicans seem happily oblivious to that reality. At the end of the day, they would rather score a few cheap political points than do something to actually fix the IRS.

Read Comments (5)

edmund dantesJul 10, 2013

When the IRS decided to stop applying the tax laws in a nonpartisan way, they
evidently failed to consider that there might be partisan payback. The
deliberate politicization of the agency, followed by cover-ups and invocations
of the Fifth Amendment, have destroyed the public's respect for the agency. The
IRS brought this day of reckoning down upon itself.

I have great respect for Nina Olsen. I have no confidence at all in any of the
political appointees, who have uniformly failed to help address these deeply
rooted problems. The IRS rank and file is about 95% Democrat. How is that
possible? Why is that acceptable? Are Republicans being screened out at the
hiring level?

Mr. Thorndike, how would you suggest the Republicans get the IRS to take this
situation seriously? Because it is clear that the IRS is still hoping that this
all blows over, they are still not being forthcoming.

IRS isn't going to get any respect from the taxpayer until they prove, for
once, that they respect us.

Heinrich Von GneisenauJul 15, 2013

Democrats defend the IRS the way the Republicans defend the NSA. Everyone has
their favorite bureaucracy. Of course, no one stops and asks - why? Why do we
have to have this? Why do I have to work for half the year so that some
unemployables get "employed" by the federales?

jack townsendJul 15, 2013

I interpret your comments as ideology trumping reason here. We have to tax to
obtain the revenue the Government spends. In order to have a tax, we have to
have an agency that collects the tax. So, we cannot do away with the IRS
unless we substitute another agency -- bureaucracy to use the loaded term -- in
its place. So just reconstructing another agency to do the necessary work will
not solve the problem as you imagine the proble, but likely would create
massive confusion during the many years it would take to recreate all of the
functions necessary.

The better part of wisdom is to look closely at the IRS and avoid the
temptation to throw out the baby with the bath water. The poster child for the
counterproductive blunderbuss approach is the Republican led hysteria of 1998
(most of which was built upon false anecdotes of alleged IRS misbehavior).

So, go into the IRS with a scalpel and fix the parts that need fixing. Do the
investigative work FIRST -- now that is an amazing concept -- to make sure that
there is a problem and the nature and scope of the problem and then do the
legislative work to fix it. Cutting the budget of a good agency that is
already underfunded is not the solution. (I suggest that promoters of that
solution just don't like the IRS and want to use underfunding as a tool to
create inefficiency so that they can then claim that the IRS is even more
inefficient because of the funding cuts that make the IRS inefficient.

I think Congress needs to do the required oversight and "own" the agency they
created to serve the country. The congressional mantra should be let's make
every agency of the Government -- IRS included -- the best that it can be
consistent with overall budget resources and priorities of the country as
determined by the legislative and the president. The IRS is one agency that
earns its keep for the American citizens.

And the public servants in the IRS are generally high quality, devoted and
courteous. Some may not be, but that is a human phenomenon in every large
organization. Exxon did not start underfunding its activities because the
Valdez spilled oil. The "fix" is to deal with those relatively few public
servants who don't understand their mission and not trash the majority who do.

Jack Townsend

edmund dantesJul 15, 2013

How do you do the investigative work when IRS is stonewalling at every turn?
When IRS agents claim the Fifth Amendment as the investigation begins? Why
don't the "high quality" IRS employees step forward to help us out here?

New problems are coming up every day:

The rot at the IRS runs deeper than Tax Analysts seems to think. I'm beginning
to wonder where all the "professional, hard working" IRS employees are, and
whether they are just a myth. If it were just a few bad apples, we could take
the scalpel approach Mr. Townsend prefers. But it increasingly looks like the
IRS has been left unaccountable for far too long, and major reforms are going
to be needed.

Nothing destroys faith in the government faster than politicizing the tax
system, as has now happened at the IRS.

jack townsendJul 16, 2013

I am sorry that I did not make clear that my earlier comment was directed to
the people making comments who, based on my reading of their comments, are
raising ideological claims not based on fact.

The sad part is not an unaccountable IRS. The IRS is accountable to the
President and the Congress. The unaccountability is on the part of politicians
in Congress who -- like Joe McCarthy -- can make the wildest of speculations
to trash good public servants and a good agency without the proof. That is
exactly what the Chairman did to the IRS, just as his Senate Republican
Counterpart did in 1998 with claims subsequently shown by the GAO to be false.
Had the Chairman here done his full homework first, he would have known his
hand was empty. But he was too eager to smear people in the hopes of nailing
President Obama, whether with the truth or with lies (makes no difference if he
can damage the President or his proxy the IRS).

That is what I object to -- trashing the IRS on the basis of falsehoods without
conducting a complete investigation. You probably know that committees do most
of the investigative work off the television screen so that, when managed by a
good chairman, the hearings can be at least close to the truth, even though by
nature congressional committee hearings are not fair and balanced. It is clear
that the Chairman here did not have his staff do a complete investigation
before going into the public arena with allegations and insinuations we now
know not to be true in context and with nuance. He trashed good people and
undoubtedly caused a lot of unnecessary angst and probably detriments to their
careers for his own political agenda.

Readers might want to look at the Army-McCathy hearings for a lesson on the
dangers of this type of behavior. Sure McCarthy took it to an extreme, but
that is a difference in degree, not in kind.

Do you think that the Chairman and his minions will apologize to the people he
has trashed without the evidence?

Jack Townsend

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