October 26, 2022

Smith Op-Ed: IRS abuse demands answers

By Rep. Jason Smith The Hill House Republicans recently announced our Commitment to America, and one of the pillars of that commitment is to hold Washington accountable to the American people. We made this commitment because we have listened to Americans who all across this country are experiencing the hardships and uncertainty created by an out-of-control government with an out-of-touch agenda under one-party Democrat rule in Washington and are rightfully concerned about what could come next. Sadly, we know from experience how out-of-control government can become. We need look no further than the last time Democrats controlled the White House during the Obama-Biden administration, when the IRS targeted conservative political groups that opposed the administration’s priorities and then tried to cover it up.

Nine years ago, it was revealed that the IRS division that grants non-profit status to political organizations, overseen by a Lois Lerner, had been targeting for additional scrutiny conservative groups in the lead up to the 2012 Presidential election. Despite being at the center of a scandal where Americans’ freedom of speech was being suppressed, Lerner received nearly $130,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses between 2010 and 2013, including a $42,000 bonus while she was under investigation for the targeting activity that occurred under her watch. Years later, American taxpayers are just now learning how much this scandal has cost them. At the House Budget Committee, we have traced that over the years, taxpayers have footed the bill for Lerner’s legal defense to the tune of at least $3.6 million — forcing the same taxpayers whose First Amendment rights were violated by the IRS to defend the bureaucrat who violated them. Another $3.5 million has been paid to victims of the Lerner targeting scheme, totaling at least $7.1 million to deal with the fallout from the IRS’ illicit activity. As more information comes to light about the scandal, it is increasingly baffling and frustrating that to date not a single federal employee has been held accountable. Recently unsealed emails from Lerner showed she was aware as early as 2010 that conservative groups were being held to a different standard than other applicants, and yet she did nothing. Unfortunately, this is unsurprising as her emails make it clear why she did nothing. Lerner reveals a remarkable level of disdain for conservatives and the values they hold dear — referring to her fellow Americans as “crazies” and “a[**]holes,” and writing that their “rabid, hellfire piece of religion” was destroying the country. As if one was not enough, Democrats voted this year in their Inflation Reduction Act to create an army of potential Lois Lerners by handing over $80 billion to the IRS to hire 87,000 new agents to audit working families. Estimates show this would lead to 710,000 more audits on middle-and low-income families. In response to legitimate public fear that the IRS will come knocking on their doors, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attempted to assuage the American people’s concerns by telling the IRS not to conduct audits above “historical levels” on families making less than $400,000. What Secretary Yellen failed to explain to the public is that the “historical levels” she referenced would return audit levels to those we saw under the Obama-Biden administration when the Lerner scandal occurred. Further, her directive does nothing to limit the myriad of other enforcement actions the IRS could pursue against working class Americans. Thanks to Democrats, the IRS is so flushed with the cash now that it recently admitted it could continue to operate whether or not Congress voted to fund its annual budget. The agency has said it has enough funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to keep every employee on payroll even during a lapse in government funding that would cause other agencies across government to cease regular operations. In short, Democrats have prioritized the IRS to such an extent that it can continue implementing President Biden’s agenda no matter what. By allowing the IRS to potentially function absent regular congressional funding, Democrats have forfeited congressional oversight that could address the agency’s repeated abuse of power. A supercharged IRS that does not answer to Congress is dangerous. Over the past two years we’ve seen the agency become increasingly unaccountable under President Biden’s rein. For example, last year the tax information for thousands of Americans was leaked to the media at the same time President Biden was trying to whip public support for raising taxes on those same individuals. And earlier this year, the agency again leaked confidential tax information online — this time of 120,000 taxpayers who own retirement accounts on which Democrats have sought to impose stricter contribution limits. Are Americans truly expected to assume all of these instances are just a bunch of coincidences? Democrats have refused to ask the IRS tough questions about the agency’s behavior because it could potentially expose how abuses of power by the IRS have served the Washington Democrats’ political agenda. When Republicans earn back majorities in Congress, business as usual for the IRS will be over. We will return power to the American people and hold the IRS accountable, starting with undoing 87,000 IRS agents that Democrats hired to go after working families. It is time for Washington to get a wakeup call.