How the Mar-a-Lago raid helped fuel GOP attacks on the IRS

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After Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) spent 15 minutes on a Monday town hall going through his recent work in Congress, he opened the call for questions.

The first was James, from Ada, Okla., who wanted to know: what are you going to do with the new brigade of armed Internal Revenue Service agents?

The caller was referring to recent legislation that gives the IRS billions of dollars for tax enforcement, some of which could be used to hire more officers and help close the federal tax “tax hole.” unpaid.

But Cole didn’t miss a beat in his response, echoing his House Republican colleagues falsely claiming the funding would double the size of the IRS by hiring 87,000 officers who would work to audit everyone from small business owners to farmers earning less than $75,000 a year. He ignored the questioner’s suggestion that the officers would be armed, but said the funding was “an incredible expansion of government” by a party that believes the average American doesn’t “pay enough taxes”.

“That was just another reason I voted no on the legislation,” Cole said. “Sorry we couldn’t defeat him.”

The legislation does not mandate the hiring of 87,000 armed officers. It allocates $80 billion over a decade across the agency to strengthen taxpayer services and tax code enforcement.

But as Republicans scramble to find their message in the days following the FBI’s raid of their standard-bearer’s Florida residence, the verbal attacks on federal law enforcement have mingled with another topic of discussion related to an entirely different issue: the idea that Democrats are overloading a tax agency to police ordinary Americans.

Both issues came to a head last week as House Republicans returned to Washington to vote against the Cut Inflation Act days after Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property was raided. , angering supporters by equating the two issues as examples of extreme overreaching of the federal government by Democrats.

“If the FBI can raid the home of a former US president, imagine what 87,000 other IRS agents will do to you,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted hours after the search of Mar-a-Lago.

A job offer on the IRS website weeks before the legislation took effect, it noted that applicants must be prepared to “carry a firearm and be prepared to use deadly force, if necessary,” prompting Republicans to claim that federal agents will soon be breaking into people’s homes.

The jobs list has since been updated to remove that line, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from repeating it.

“Are they going to have a strike force coming in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to fire on a small business in Iowa?” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) inquired about “Fox & Friends” last week.

While Republican members stretched the truth about what the funding would do, the talking points are unlikely to go away.

Hyperbolic GOP claims about IRS agents and audits

Several GOP strategists focused on house races have described IRS funding as a giveaway for their candidates to draw contrasts with Democratic opponents ahead of the midterm elections on an issue they say voters universally dislike.

“It’s political suicide to raise people’s taxes and double the size of the most unpopular bureaucratic agency, but the Democrats chose to do it. Nobody likes paying taxes, nobody likes being hassled by the IRS and being rushed for everything they own. So that’s an easy selling point for voters,” said a strategist who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the internal conversation about Republican campaign messaging.

It was obvious to Republicans early on that the IRS could be turned into a corner issue based on their own internal polls. They have long believed targeting the IRS to be in their best interests due to what they say are voter fears of being audited and increased enforcement.

While Democrats’ sweeping “Build Back Better” legislation never took effect after Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) opposed it, Republicans were happy to see the IRS funding survive in the much thinner deal Manchin struck with the Senate Majority Leader. Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) earlier this summer.

The Inflation Reduction Act gives the IRS more than $45 billion for tax enforcement that could be used to hire more officers and help fill the “tax hole” of unpaid federal taxes. It also allocates $25 billion for logistics operations within the agency, about $5 billion for business upgrades and another $3.2 billion to strengthen taxpayer services.

Democrats have argued that Republican cuts at all levels of the federal government have created a huge backlog of unprocessed paperwork for taxpayers. An IRS report to Congress this year showed the pandemic contributed to a drastic increase in unprocessed tax returns, from 7.4 million at the end of the 2019 filing period to 35.8 million at the end of the 2019 filing period. the same period in 2021.

“While Democrats put people and country before politics and power, Republicans knowingly lie to voters to defend the wealthy tax cheats who support their campaigns,” said Tommy Garcia, spokesman for the Congressional Campaign Committee. democrat.

But Republicans believe targeting the IRS is fair game, with strategists noting they still feel bruised after the agency revealed under the Obama administration that it had selected conservative groups seeking exempt status. tax for further review before granting liens.

The IRA’s move coinciding with the FBI’s search for Mar-a-Lago only adds to anti-federal government sentiment among voters, strategists say.

“If Joe Biden is willing to use the feds to go after the big guy,” said another GOP strategist, referring to Trump, “if they can do it to people in power, what can they do to you without army of lawyers and no loud voices? »

Strategists also said telling voters that Democrats prioritize funding the IRS over policing or border security is an easy attack that inflames the GOP base. Additionally, framing legislation as putting more money toward a bureaucratic agency at a time when people are already feeling the economic pinch from high inflation may indicate a misalignment of priorities.

Still, the rhetoric targeting federal employees may come at a cost to Republicans. They have been criticized for their condemnations of the FBI and the Justice Department over the raid, especially since the death of a gunman who was killed by police after trying to break into the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati. .

House GOP members dismissed any suggestion that their rhetoric motivated the attacker, with one strategist noting that verbal attacks on agencies are fair game as long as members continue to disavow any violence.

“I would just say to everyone, please, no matter where you are on this, no matter how crazy you are, please don’t do anything untoward,” Cole said. to listeners at his town hall on Monday. “It’s just not appropriate and dangerous for everyone involved.”

Although the GOP messages lack critical context about where the funding is actually going, they seem to resonate with voters. During two swing voter focus groups held Monday night on behalf of progressive organizations, both groups said they had heard that IRS funding to hire more agents was included in the legislation. Democrats.

“There are very beautiful things [in this bill], but at the same time hiring 87,000 people from the IRS, I don’t think that’s the best cost allocation,” one woman said in a focus group. “This bill is so profound, but I, unfortunately, have to read it to understand that it is going to affect us greatly.”

Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.


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