Republicans and the IRS
Slow strangulation of the IRS feeds the Republican narrative
For me two quotes exemplify Republican attitudes toward government: Ronald Reagan’s “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” and Grover Norquist’s, “I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
Both the quotes came to mind as I read the Monday, April 18, Orion Donovan-Smith’s front page article in the Spokesman, “TAXPAYERS CAN EXPECT MORE DELAYED RETURNS, Watchdog warns IRS ‘is in crisis’ with staffing, funding”1
The article offers some balance on the issue with discussion of the dysfunction of the IRS by noting that 1) Republican have systematically cut funding for the agency and 2) by blocking Biden’s Build Back Better Act, Congress has stonewalled the badly needed funds for modernization and staffing of the IRS (although Smith points at a few “moderate Democrats” rather than the glaring no-to-everything solid voting block of Republicans).
Years of Norquist-inspired Republican underfunding of the IRS feeds a vicious cycle: outdated computer systems and understaffing render the IRS incapable of interacting with taxpayers in a timely and helpful manner, an incapacity that fuels taxpayer outrage with “the system” and fosters exactly the distrust of government that Reagan famously endorsed.
Meanwhile, as the average taxpayer slogs through tax season angry with the IRS and government in general, the wealthy backers of the Republican political machine smile all the way to the bank. After all, they managed to push through the 2017 “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” that massively cut their tax liability. Furthermore, the more cash-strapped and understaffed the IRS remains, the less the IRS is capable of challenging the convoluted tax dodges in which the wealthy can afford to engage.
Donovan-Smith’s article points up another quirk of the U.S. tax system (the bold is mine):
While many other countries provide benefits to their citizens through social service agencies, Holtzblatt said, the U.S. government relies on the IRS, through programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit that provides up to $6,700 for low-income families with children. When Congress approved economic stimulus payments as part of pandemic aid packages in 2020 and 2021, it relied on the IRS to distribute those funds.
Starving the IRS of operating and capital improvement funds thus gums up even the federal government’s attempts to help low income families, fostering additional frustration and distrust among precisely the folks who most need a break.
Underfunding the IRS thus helps fulfill the Republican narrative in multiple ways. It takes the pressure off the so-called “job creators” to pay their share of taxes under the law while underfunding simultaneously reduces the efficient distribution of funds meant to reach those disdained by Republicans as “living on the dole”/”living on welfare”. The resultant dysfunction is then criticized as a failure of government and held up as a reason to further shrink it. It’s a vicious cycle that will only break by shrinking the number of Republicans in public office.
Keep to the high ground,
Note that the headlines of articles appearing in the print version of the Spokesman are often somewhat different than the online version. This particular article appeared online under the headline, “After ‘horrendous’ year for cash-strapped IRS, taxpayers can expect more delayed returns”.