Partisan IRS Budget Cuts Create Pointless Tax Season Headaches (January 21, 2015)

IRS Budget Cuts

If there’s one bargaining tactic Congressional Republican lawmakers have perfected since President Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, it’s trying to cut off America’s nose to spite its face. When the GOP doesn’t get its way, every feasible effort is made to scorch the earth, even when that includes the ground under lawmakers’ collective feet.

We’ve seen this play out over and over again. Every manufactured debt ceiling and budget showdown has featured some version of the “hold your breath until we all turn blue” scenario. The most notable of these was, of course, the government shutdown of November 2013. This ill-advised Obamacare implementation temper tantrum led writer Sylvia Mathews Burwell to observe on the Office of Management and Budget blog:

“The shutdown had significant negative effects on the economy. The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that the combination of the shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship resulted in 120,000 fewer private sector jobs created during the first two weeks of October [2013]. And multiple surveys have shown that consumer and business confidence was badly damaged.”

Republicans didn’t fare very well in the court of public opinion either. Just as it was during Newt Gingrich’s big shutdown adventure of 1994, an October 9, 2013 Associated Press pollfound that a majority of Americans (62 percent) blamed the GOP for the completely avoidable farce. It’s possible (possible) that the right has finally learned an obvious lesson. The people may not all agree on what the size and scope of government should be, but at the end of the day, they want it open and functioning to some degree.

So in advance of this tax season, Republican lawmakers tried something new(ish). Without a hint of irony, the group voted to extend more than 50 temporary tax breaks that had expired, depriving the Treasury of badly needed revenue. And we know that it’s needed because at the same time, per another December 18, 2014 report from the AP, “Congress cut the IRS budget by $346 million for the budget year that ends in September 2015. The $10.9 billion budget is $1.2 billion less than the agency received in 2010.”

To understand what the GOP is about here, it’s important to remember, “The cuts come as the IRS is starting to play a bigger role in implementing President Barack Obama’s health care law. For the first time, taxpayers will have to report on their tax returns whether they have health insurance.”

Bingo. Of course.

The House has unsuccessfully passed more than 50 bills designed to dismantle Obamacare. Total failure to achieve anything but wasted time and paper.

Cynical charlatan and Texas Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz played pied piper to House lemmings who jumped off the 2013 shutdown cliff. Obamacare’s rollout remained impervious to all but website malfunctions.

And now we have this. Starve the beast. Is there any reason to believe that Republican efforts will succeed at doing anything more than creating a bureaucratic backlog that delays refunds to hardworking American families? Not if you ask IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Per the AP report, “He said the IRS is required to enforce the law, so other areas will have to be cut, including taxpayer services and enforcement. Koskinen said the IRS is imposing a hiring freeze, except for emergencies, and is eliminating almost all overtime.”

In short, exhausted government workers and stressful uncertainty for taxpayers, so that the GOP can log another Obamacare torpedo miss. Totally worth it.

“‘Everybody’s return will get processed,’ Koskinen told reporters. ‘But people have gotten very used to being able to file their return and quickly getting a refund. This year we may not have the resources, the people to provide refunds as quickly as we have in the past.’”

Republicans they got us this time. Unlike the open warfare of a shutdown or a debt ceiling “crisis,” attempts to injure the administrative functions of the IRS through line item budget cuts is an exercise in (more) subtle obfuscation. But not subtle enough folks.

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