'Deeply dangerous nonsense': Treasury Dept. debunks GOP lies about 87,000 armed IRS agents

'Deeply dangerous nonsense': Treasury Dept. debunks GOP lies about 87,000 armed IRS agents
Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania / Wikimedia Commons

An official from the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed Friday that, contrary to the unrelenting barrage of lies repeated by GOP operatives for over a week, the Internal Revenue Service is not going to hire 87,000 new agents to harass working people at their homes.

Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that was passed through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process last week and signed into law by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, choosing instead to condemn the package's relatively modest but popular tax reforms.

Despite analysts' predictions that the 98.2% of U.S. households with annual incomes of $400,000 or less will receive the same tax bill or a slight cut as a result of the IRA, far-right lawmakers have sown disinformation about how the law's provision of roughly $80 billion in new IRS funding over 10 years—money intended to help the agency crack down on rich tax cheats—poses a threat to every American.

Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) went so far as to claim that Democrats are "using the power of the federal government for armed robbery!" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has made similar allegations.

It's not just fringe members of the GOP who are spreading such falsehoods. One day before Boebert's tirade, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the highest-ranking Republican in the lower chamber, tweeted, "Democrats in Washington plan to hire an army of 87,000 IRS agents so they can audit more Americans like you."

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—currently a top contender, along with former President Donald Trump, to be the Republican Party's 2024 nominee for the White House—called hiring 87,000 IRS agents "a middle finger to the American public," making clear that he would prefer more "might at the border."

Where does this oft-repeated number of IRS agents come from?

"The 87,000 figure does exist, buried within a May 2021 Treasury Department report when the Biden administration was pushing a bigger spending bill with the same $80 billion IRS funding," Reutersnoted Friday. "The report estimated the money could fund 86,852 full-time hires through 2031."

But the actual net increase in staff would be much lower, as the IRS expects more than 50,000 aging Baby Boomer employees to retire over the next half-decade.

In addition to an unspecified number of new revenue agents—there were 8,321 in fiscal year 2021—the agency is looking to hire tens of thousands of new information technology specialists and customer service personnel who can create a user experience more akin to online banking, Natasha Sarin, Treasury counselor for tax policy and administration, told Reuters.

There are 2,100 special agents in the IRS Criminal Investigation branch who are authorized to carry firearms, but right-wing assertions that all 87,000 new hires would be auditors, criminal enforcement agents, or armed are "deeply dangerous nonsense—and false," said Sarin.

"The speed and voracity with which [Republicans] are coming at this is really a testament to how important these resources are going to be—because there are many wealthy tax evaders that stand to lose a lot," Sarin continued.

The GOP's intentionally misleading attacks come after a decade of budget cuts approved by congressional Republicans left the IRS with 16,000 fewer employees in 2021 than it had in 2010.

As ProPublica has documented, the IRS now audits low-income taxpayers at the same rate as the top 1%, but that is a direct result of years of austerity, which have undermined the agency's ability to audit the rich.

The IRA's boost in IRS funding aims to rectify this injustice and to begin closing an estimated $600 billion annual "tax gap"—the difference between taxes paid and owed—by strengthening enforcement against the complex avoidance strategies used by the wealthy, especially those with murky sources of income.

New information technology hires will develop "tools to identify more high-end audit targets," Reuters reported. "To target wealthy taxpayers and handle sophisticated audits, Sarin said the IRS needs mid-career individuals with accounting and often tax law experience."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the increase in IRS funding will raise $204 billion in additional revenue over 10 years, while the Treasury projects that the real revenue impact will likely be $400 billion over a decade—a substantial portion of the IRA's climate and healthcare spending.

Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen instructed IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig—a scandal-plagued Trump appointee who spent decades battling the agency—to submit an $80 billion spending and hiring plan within six months. Yellen previously directed the agency not to use any new resources to increase audits of people making less than $400,000 per year.

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