Even as the Internal Revenue Service’s duties have grown in recent years, the agency has had to do more with less. In real dollars, the IRS budget has declined by 14 percent since 2010, while its staff has shrunk by 11 percent.
But that’s not enough for House Republicans. This week, they passed a harebrained amendment that would slash the IRS tax-enforcement budget by $1.2 billion — a 24 percent reduction.
Republicans rail against the budget deficit. Hamstringing the country’s revenue collection service is a decidedly ineffective strategy to reduce the deficit.
The IRS gets $255 in tax collections for every dollar it is appropriated, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2013 report to Congress. At a time when the agency already under-collects $385 billion a year in taxes because of weakened enforcement, the answer is more funding, not less.
The toxic “starve the beast” mentality that so enthralls Republicans is partly to blame, as are the irresponsible efforts of GOP lawmakers such as Rep. Darrell Issa of California to use investigations of IRS treatment of tax-exempt groups as an excuse to drum up a wider scandal by searching for an unsubstantiated link to the White House.
The IRS erred in over-zealously targeting Tea Party groups, but its review was justified. Organizations that apply for tax-exempt status as social-welfare groups under the federal tax code are supposed to use their funds “exclusively” for community benefit or education. The job of the IRS is to make sure that such exemptions are legitimate.
Much of the money the IRS fails to collect would come from wealthy citizens with complicated tax returns, not from middle-class Americans. If Republicans in Congress cut IRS funding further, that would give rich taxpayers another tax break that is not available to the rest of us.