New York Times Locates 'Real IRS Scandal' (Hint: It's the GOP's Fault)

July 7th, 2014 9:28 AM

One must perversely admire the gall of the New York Times editorial page. Sunday's lead editorial, "The Real IRS Scandal," says that the "real scandal" at the politicized agency isn't its targeting of citizens with anti-Obama views before the last election, isn't the suspiciously lost emails by an agent who pled the fifth before Congress, but a lack of sufficient funds because of the GOP.

Republican-fostered cuts to the agency's budget have evidently meant less audits of "the rich," which in turn spells "bad news for building roads, keeping the air clean, protecting the nation’s security, and countless other vital government tasks." A commenter accurately accused the Times of changing the subject.

The Times has been notoriously soft on the IRS during the entire scandal, in which the agency stand accused of discriminating against Tea Party groups during the crucial run-up to the 2012 elections won by Obama, singling them out for extensive and personal scrutiny based on their names or political positions.

The editorial page went so far as to applaud the IRS for actions it later apologized for. Margaret Sullivan, the Times' public editor, recently came out in defense of the paper's recent scandal coverage, even though important new developments involving suspiciously lost emails from Lois Lerner, the director of the I.R.S. division that oversees tax-exempt groups, have yet to make the front page.

From Sunday's ham-handed editorial attempt at misdirection:

There is a scandal going on at the Internal Revenue Service, but it has nothing to do with Lois Lerner or her missing emails. House Republicans have not given up on their noisy crusade to tie Ms. Lerner to what they imagine to be widespread political corruption within the Obama administration, but all they have proved is that the I.R.S. is no better at backing up its computer files than most other government agencies.

No, the real scandal is what Republicans did to cripple the agency when virtually no one was looking. Since the broad Tea Party-driven spending cuts of 2010, the agency’s budget has been cut by 14 percent after inflation is considered, leading to sharply reduced staff, less enforcement of the tax laws and poor taxpayer service.

The Times even poached this liberal idea from a Washington Post guest column, which by sheer coincidence had praised and cited a previous New York Times editorial defending the IRS.

As the economist Jared Bernstein noted recently in The Washington Post, a weakened I.R.S. enforcement staff will be unable to make a dent in the $385 billion annual gap between what taxpayers owe and what they pay -- an unintended tax cut, mostly for the rich, that represents 11 percent of this year’s spending. Middle-class taxpayers who struggle to fill out their 1040s may welcome a diminished threat of an audit, but in fact this reduction is not about them. The I.R.S. audits a far higher percentage of tax returns from people reporting incomes over $200,000 than from those reporting less, because that is where the money is (along with the most profitable cheating).

But in 2013, it audited only 24 percent of returns over $10 million, compared with 30 percent in 2010. Of returns reporting between $1 million and $5 million, it audited 16 percent in 2013, compared with 21 percent in 2010. That is great news for the nation’s highest-income taxpayers, many of whom donate generously to Republican politicians to keep their taxes low. They are getting their money’s worth from lawmakers who debilitate revenue collection while claiming to be deeply worried about the budget deficit.

But it is bad news for building roads, keeping the air clean, protecting the nation’s security, and countless other vital government tasks. Revenue collected by I.R.S. enforcement actions has fallen by more than $4 billion over the last four years, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And every dollar spent on enforcement yields $6 in additional revenue. Many I.R.S. computers use obsolete Windows XP operating systems and cannot keep up with a growing problem of identity theft that is directing refunds to criminals.