WASHINGTON – It is unusual for a US Senator to publicly warn Americans not to apply for a job and threaten to remove it.
But that’s exactly what Senate Republican campaign manager Rick Scott, R-Fla., did this week, releasing an open letter encouraging job seekers not to pursue new IRS positions and promising that Republicans, who hope to take control of Congress next year will do so quickly. “devalue” these jobs.
Scott claimed the Biden administration will use the Democrats’ newly enacted Anti-Inflation Act to create “an IRS super police force” to “vet and investigate” ordinary Americans. “The IRS makes it very clear that not only must you be willing to test and examine your hard-working fellow citizens, your neighbors and friends, you must be willing and, to use the words of the IRS, willing to kill them. ” he wrote, referring to a job posting for the agency’s criminal investigation department that was mischaracterized.
Scott’s portrayal of a new squad of IRS agents targeting average Americans has no basis in the text of the new law and has been dismissed as fabrication by Democrats. It was exposed – indirectly – by formal instructions from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to the IRS on Wednesday.
In a memo to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, seen by NBC News, Yellen urged the agency to use the bill’s $80 billion cash injection to “enforce tax laws against high-net-worth individuals, large corporations and complex partnerships that… today pay far less than they owe.”
“As I wrote last week, these investments will not result in households earning $400,000 or less per year or in small businesses seeing an increase in the likelihood of being audited relative to historical levels,” wrote Yellen and stressed that the funds would help “improve taxpayer service, modernize technology and increase equity in our system of tax administration by pursuing tax evasion by those at the top who are not paying their tax bills today.”
Scott’s threat to ax the new IRS jobs is empty, at least for now. It’s unclear if Republicans will gain full control of Congress — and if they did, President Joe Biden would still have veto power to prevent them from reversing his signature laws.
But the letter represents a dramatic escalation in Republican attacks on an Inflation Reduction Act provision that strengthens the IRS — part of a strategy to stoke anti-government voters with deep concerns about the agency ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
“A Ridiculous Caricature”
The anti-inflation bill, passed with unanimous Democrat support and no Republican votes, is a set of policies voters love most — from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices to a 15% minimum tax on corporations. And Democrats are eager to campaign for legislation in a tough election for the party in power.
Despite its size, the bill didn’t draw the backlash that the Affordable Care Act had in 2010, leading Republicans to focus on IRS funding to try to motivate voter opposition. GOP leaders, candidates for office and strategists have begun to claim the IRS plans to hire tens of thousands of new employees to screen middle-class Americans, citing a May 2021 Treasury Department analysis.
The Treasury Department estimated that in a decade the IRS could hire 86,852 employees — and not all in auditing or tax enforcement. Some would replace departing employees. It’s unclear how many will actually be hired, and there’s no evidence the government is considering closer scrutiny of middle-income Americans.
“It’s a ridiculous caricature,” said Kimberly Clausing, a former deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis at Biden’s Treasury Department. “It’s deliberate fear-mongering that paints a picture that compliant taxpayers should be afraid.”
She said much of the new staff would be used to answer calls and process tax refunds, with additional resources to modernize outdated technology so the agency could target “more sophisticated tax evaders” as opposed to lower-income taxpayers.
“The story for ordinary Americans who are compliant with their taxes is that this is great for them. They’re more likely to have their returns processed quickly, they’re more likely to get their calls back,” Clausing said. “They are less likely to be audited because the IRS has the skills and technology to target the audits to those who should really be impacted.”
Meanwhile, Scott’s innuendos about his alleged license to kill agents can be traced back to a job posting for a special agent in the IRS Criminal Investigation Department that was misrepresented as a listing for other positions at the agency. The distortions have spread among conservatives on social media and have been incorporated into Republican campaign messages ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Arizona Senate Republican nominee Blake Masters tweeted that the law “designates 87,000 new IRS agents to intimidate and evict [small] Plunge corporations into the ground.” Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader said Democrats “plan to hire an army of 87,000 IRS agents so they can test more Americans like you.” And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that “Senate Democrats splurged on 87,000 new IRS officers” after passing the bill.
A Democratic adviser familiar with the process noted that the original version of the Anti-Inflation Act contained explicit language providing “no tax increases” for taxpayers earning less than $400,000 — but Republicans made the provision under the rules of the Senate budget process in question and successfully forced their repeal.
The White House dismissed Republican rhetoric and drew attention to Scott’s proposal to automatically expire laws like Social Security after five years unless Congress approves it again.
“Nothing demonstrates the extremity of Congressional Republicans’ agenda, or their prioritization of wealthy special interests over the American people, like their desire to overturn Medicare’s new ability to lower drug prices and raise energy bills because wealthy tax dodgers must stop breaking the law.” “White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “President Biden and Congressional Democrats cut costs for middle-class families as Rick Scott tells exposed lies and continues to push for putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.”