Calmes: No, Tucker Carlson and armed IRS agents won’t be coming for your money

My father was an armed IRS agent who carried a gun for a reason. He helped arrest mob supporters across Northern Ohio for tax evasion, from Toledo to Youngstown. He died prematurely (of natural causes) and his public service is one of my fondest memories.

Now I’ll tell you who won’t be an armed IRS agent: the estimated 87,000 Americans who will be hired for service over the next 10 years, funded by $80 billion earmarked for under the new Inflation Reduction Act.

Republicans and right-wing pundits who claim otherwise—”The Democratic Army…will come for you,” warns House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—are liars. You know better.

Yes, I take this personally, both as my father’s daughter and as a Washington observer who abhors politicians lying to their constituents. For decades, I’ve resented when anti-government Republicans unfairly disparaged the IRS, our essential tax collection service. They starved out funds, then stoked public anger when the agency’s overwhelmed officials (no pun intended) inevitably failed to take taxpayers’ calls, send timely refunds, or do anything else the public rightly expected.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

Among Republicans’ falsehoods in this year’s midterm campaigns, the IRS lie comes second in sheerness and evidence of their willingness to overthrow the government after the “big lie” – that Donald Trump was stripped of his re-election.

Despite fact-check after fact-check, Republicans and right-wing media stars like McCarthy gallingly claim that Democrats will test those “making less than $75,000 a year,” or, as Fox News host Tucker Carlson does, agents “will be armed… to make sure you obey”. Senator Ted Cruz — doing his part to prove everything is bigger in Texas, even demagogy — tweeted, “Biden is building a shadow army… to hunt you down and take your money.”

Facts: Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, whose department includes the IRS, and IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig, a Trump-appointed staffer, put it in writing: The additional money would be used “absolutely not” to test individuals and to raise small businesses that make less than $400,000 a year.

Additional Facts: The $80 billion Inflation Reduction Act for the IRS will be used to replace outdated computer systems, cover routine costs and, yes, hire 87,000 new employees over 10 years. The agency now has the fewest employees since the 1970s (when it processed half as many tax returns), and more than half of those who work in tax enforcement are nearing retirement. Many of the new hires will not be tax collectors; According to the government’s Congressional Research Service, they will operate the technology and take your calls.

I would say that there is not a grain of truth in Republican claims about armed agents, except that some correctly point to a Fox News report on an IRS job posting for “Criminal Investigation Special Agents” which states that the Hires carrying firearms would potentially “use deadly force.” Few IRS agents belong to this unit, just as Dad’s gun-carrying was not common in the IRS of his day, and few, if any, of the new hires were armed. A Fox News White House correspondent tweeted So much. If only Fox’s prime-time pundits would just deal with facts.

Demonizing the IRS is not about protecting the hard-working middle class, as Carlson, Cruz, McCarthy and the others would like you to believe. It’s about protecting the Republican donor class and Fox’s viewership. The top 1% of taxpayers evade the government an estimated $160 billion in taxes a year, Yellen told Congress. Funding for the IRS would bring in about $20 billion more annually, nearly $204 billion over the decade, the Congressional Budget Office predicted.

Repeated investigative reports and government reports testify to billionaires and large corporations not paying income taxes, legally or otherwise. However, Republicans refuse to give the IRS the resources needed to audit the most complicated tax returns, even as they have long pressured the agency to audit low-income workers who use the earned income tax credit for the take advantage of the poor. The nonprofit news organization ProPublica found that the most audited county in the country was a rural county in Mississippi where poor black residents are a majority.

Rettig made his agency’s needs clear in his letter to Congress: “The IRS has fewer experienced frontline examiners in this area than it has at any time since World War II. … As a result, for too long the IRS has been unable to conduct meaningful and effective investigations of large corporations and wealthy taxpayers to ensure they are paying their fair share.”

While we do not know for certain that Trump’s statements have been scrutinized over the past several years, I have never believed his claims, and for good reason, that he cannot make them public because of this. (The IRS said it had no objection.) Rich people like him mostly don’t get audited anymore.

Republican demagogy is not only wrong, it is dangerous. Amid their attacks on the FBI, this month we saw a gunman killed after threatening an office amid agents’ search of Trump’s Florida home. This week, amid mounting threats against the IRS, Rettig ordered a security review.

“For me, this is personal,” he wrote in a memo to employees.

I know that feeling.

After a week at his IRS job, my father often went to mass on Saturday mornings and Sundays with the family. Like me, he must have found comfort in the gospel parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. He could not have imagined how much the Republicans would come to play the Pharisees in the temple and look down on the tax collectors just as they did with “robbers, evildoers, adulterers.”

But as the parable says, “this man” – the publican – “went home more than the other, justified before God.”

@jackiekcalmes Calmes: No, Tucker Carlson and armed IRS agents won’t be coming for your money

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