Republicans like to talk about how inefficient the government is. Just look at the Post Office, they will tell you, it’s about to go bankrupt any minute. If that is true of most government agencies then the IRS is a shining exception to that rule. For every dollar the agency spends on tax compliance it collects $4. In fact, increasing these sorts of double-check programs was hailed – by Republicans and Democrats alike – throughout the 80’s and 90’s for their ability to decrease the deficit. That’s no longer the case on the right.
In the last two fiscal years the US has simply failed to collect an estimated $14 billion in taxes. And when you combine that with all of the other funds that the IRS hasn’t been able to keep track of due to budget cuts you get a staggering amount: $280 billion over the last 10 years. Most of the money is now too old to collect and will have to simply be written off.
Earl Pomeroy (D, ND) of the House IRS oversight committee blames the decrease in audits for these sorts of changes. The feeling among many corporations and wealthy individuals is that “I can cheat, no one will ever know.” Because in any given year you have about a 1% chance of being audited. So whatever you put down on your taxes you’ll probably get away with as long as you’re the only one keeping records.
Perhaps more troubling, the assault by Congressional Republicans starting in 2010 has quadrupled the number of identity thefts related to tax returns to 730k. The targets are mainly elderly individuals, who are generally contacted over the phone and end up losing their tax returns that year. Last year the total lost by unsuspecting tax payers hit $21 billion. And the IRS knows exactly how to fix it. They simply need to update their fraud detection system which is frighteningly outdated. But with their funding constantly being cut by Congress they cannot afford it.
But what really added insult to injury is the way that the same people who are causing the problem are in turn blaming the IRS. This week a law was passed that will postpone all bonuses until Customer Service numbers improve. The decrease was of course due to the 17% decrease in funding since 2010, which has decreased the number of employees by 14%. Guess where most of those employees used to work? Congress fires telephone operators by decreasing the budget and then criticizes the agency itself for having less telephone operators. Stop hitting yourself!
Some, like current Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, have even promised to abolish the IRS. Though when asked to list all of the agencies he’s promised to abolish in the past he wasn’t able to. But on the off chance that he’s able to remember his promises once he reaches office Americans can expect to see the biggest increase in the deficit ever. The IRS collected nearly $2.9 trillion dollars in 2013 and as of yet Mr. Cruz has not explained how he would make up that difference upon dismantling the agency.
What is really going on here is just another symptom of our political division in America. These politicians hope that in the current hypersensitive climate their weird maneuvers will be mistaken for bravery and sacrifice. Ted Cruz for instance is only famous because he held the federal budget hostage and most of his supporters don’t realize that it cost us billions and accomplished nothing even by their standards. The only solution is an electorate that is more informed, votes regularly and isn’t hampered by voting laws.