Republicans have long sought to embrace working-class Americans—who often jibe with them on culture war issues—while stabbing them in the back and claiming they just got shivved by a cheese-knife-wielding liberal.
If you need a timely illustration of this, consider Donald Trump’s pro-union posturing as the autoworkers strike grinds on. UAW President Shawn Fain knows Trump has been a lackey for the billionaire class—and he’s said so publicly—but Trump is hoping to consolidate his support among blue-collar workers who only notice what he says, not what he does. And so he pretends—with the help of a pliant network of right-wing propagandists posing as news outlets—that the people who vote for him in 2024 won’t be signing up for four more years of financial swirlies.
Of course, Republicans’ pro-corporate class warfare is especially galling when it comes to the IRS—specifically the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that have allowed the agency to hire more employees to go after wealthy tax cheats. You just knew Republicans would demagogue this issue—
implying stating outright that these new workers will go after you—when, in fact, they actually are pursuing wealthy tax cheats. (But hey, if the IRS can do this to them, they can do it to you, assuming you’ve ever attempted to deduct dead-corporate-whistleblower disposal as a business expense.)
Now, at least one Democratic senator is pointing out exactly how empty the GOP’s pro-worker posturing is, noting that Republicans’ attempts to enfeeble the IRS amount to little more than a reach-around for their wealthy donors.
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[N]ew data on tax avoidance by the ultrarich badly undermines GOP claims to being an anti-elite, pro-worker party. It shows that if Republicans get their way with regard to the IRS, a nontrivial number of very rich Americans would continue to underpay taxes they owe, effectively making out like bandits — some literally so.
Nearly 1,000 tax filers who earn more than $1 million per year have still not filed federal tax returns for at least one year from 2017 to 2020, according to IRS data provided to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Oh, wait—so the IRS actually is going after tax cheats who really are cheating? Well, that changes everything. No doubt Fox News will issue a full mea culpa straightaway!
Sargent notes that the $80 billion in additional IRS funding, which Congress authorized as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, has already borne fruit, despite attempts by Republicans—who never waste an opportunity to squeal about the deficit … when a Democrat is in the White House—to rescind the funding.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this year that clawing back the new IRS funds would cost the U.S. Treasury $114 billion over a decade, far eclipsing the $80 billion expenditure, which is also being used to hire service representatives to help ordinary taxpayers with their returns and address general staffing shortages at the agency.
As Sen. Wyden points out, much of the revenue the IRS is targeting would come from wealthy Americans who haven’t bothered to file returns at all. And in a Sept. 28 letter to IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, Wyden noted that the amount of money going uncollected from these folks is hardly chump change.
In response to a request from my staff, on July 21st the IRS provided detailed information on the population of high-income taxpayers for tax years 2017 –2020 that had not yet satisfied their filing obligations with the IRS. This data revealed that over 1.4 million wealthy tax cheats had still not filed required tax returns for these years and that the total amount of unpaid taxes potentially owed by this population is a whopping $65.7 billion.
Many of these high-income non-filers are repeat offenders. According to IRS data, 10,272 taxpayers still had multiple years of unfiled returns and six figure balances of unpaid taxes going back to 2017 – 2020. In fact, nearly 1,000 taxpayers making more than $1 million per year have failed to file tax returns over multiple recent years.
We get it. Republicans are protecting their wealthy voters and donors—many of whom are literal lawbreakers—by crippling the IRS’ ability to collect funds that are already owed. But what does any of this have to do with Hunter Biden’s laptop?
Republicans do this same Kabuki dance all the time, of course. And it’s easy, because Fox News, et al., will always support their preferred narrative, even if it sounds like something Karl Rove wrote while snorting bath salts out of Charles Koch’s navel.
For instance, when Republicans were selling their 2017 pro-plutocrat tax scam, Trump regaled his working-class fans with fanciful tales about the law soaking rich taxpayers like him. Of course, after it passed, he radically changed his tune—at least in private—telling his wealthy fans at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.”
Meanwhile, as Sargent points out, what the new IRS funding is actually doing is starting to level the playing field just a tiny bit. Sargent quotes Jean Ross, a tax expert at the Center for American Progress, who notes that rich tax cheaters have the means to hire top-flight lawyers and accountants to help them lower their tax burdens, while ordinary taxpayers’ incomes tend to be reported directly to the IRS.
“It moves us closer to a world where everybody pays the taxes they legally owe,” Ross says, “rather than continuing current disparities, where unpaid taxes are disproportionately owed by the very wealthy.”
Meanwhile, Republicans are continuing to pull the wool over workers’ eyes every day, with the help of right-wing propaganda outlets like Fox News.
“If Republican efforts to defund the tax police prevail,” Sargent writes, “the real winners will not be workers and small businesses but a subset of wealthy elites—who will chortle all the way to the bank.”
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