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WILLIAMS: Congress Wants to Expand IRS and Give It More of Your Info

Natassia Smick, a mother of two, is working on getting her bachelor’s degree. She and her husband earn around $33,000 annually and depend on $2,000 from the earned-income tax credit to help make ends meet. Unfortunately, instead of getting the tax refund they were owed and relied on, the Smick family was targeted with an invasive audit from the IRS.

Now, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, millions of hard-working, low-income Americans like Natassia could face similarly frustrating audits from the IRS.

The partisan bill rushed through Congress includes more than $80 billion in new funding for the IRS. Among other things, these taxpayer dollars will go toward hiring and training 87,000 new enforcement agents at the IRS to conduct even more audits. Democrats are claiming this expansion would serve to go after tax cheats and billionaires who can afford to pay more. But the facts tell a different story. Just a few months ago, a new analysis of IRS data clearly showed that poor Americans — earning less than $25,000 a year — are five times more likely to be audited by the IRS.

This unprecedented expansion of the IRS is bad enough. But what many people may not know is that this bill also includes millions of dollars for a taxpayer-funded study that will pave the way for the IRS to collect even more financial information from American families. In fact, the bill gives the IRS $15 million to study how the government could start preparing and filing tax returns on behalf of taxpayers. That may seem innocuous, but make no mistake: this provision is the first step to making the government our accountant.

A massive amount of personal information is needed to file a tax return every year and get a full refund. And that information changes from year to year. These are important changes that the government — especially an agency as backlogged and behind as the IRS — will struggle to maintain. If the agency was put in charge of generating and filing tax returns, it’s almost guaranteed that it wouldn’t be accurate, which, in the best-case scenario, means more precious time spent trying to fix their mistakes. That would be a nightmare at an agency that is answering only one in 50 customer service phone calls.

In the worst-case scenario, it would mean not getting the money owed. Millions of Americans who depend on critical tax credits, like Natassia and her family, could miss out on the full refund they are entitled to and rely on to pay their bills. In fact, a recent report from CNBC found that this proposal would make it harder for taxpayers to claim the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, the child and dependent care credit, and more.

And while progressives in Congress rushed to push this clear conflict of interest through, even the IRS itself has said that a government-run system would not be a significant improvement for taxpayers. 

The former heads of the IRS under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump agreed that a government-run tax prep system should not be a priority for the agency. And James McTigue, a director at the independent Government Accountability Office specializing in tax policy and administration, recently  acknowledged that “it’s not 100 percent clear that the IRS could do better or as well as the private companies.”

This massive package, rushed through in the dead of night, has many concerning provisions, but those that expand the IRS and may force taxpayers to turn over even more personal information to the government in exchange for a system that experts acknowledge may not work is alarming. 

Earlier this year, an overwhelming 75 percent of voters across the country said they would oppose proposals just like this, and 60 percent of voters said they would not support elected officials who pushed these proposals through. Members of Congress should remember they work for these voters and shouldn’t make tax season more difficult and even more invasive for hardworking Americans like Natassia.

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Mixed Reactions to $739B Spending Bill Signed by Biden

President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act — now being called the “Climate, Healthcare, and Taxes Act” by some — on Tuesday, drawing mixed reactions. Whether it would help or hurt Americans depended on party affiliation.

The mammoth $739 bill will impose a minimum of 15 percent in corporate taxes and a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. It will also unleash 87,000 new IRS agents, cap insulin costs for Medicare recipients, and shovel billions in tax subsidies to “green” projects.

“Hide your wallet! The left’s behemoth tax hike and spending law will do nothing to help struggling Americans,” said Brooke Rollins, president and CEO of America First Policy Institute. “It will only make a bad situation worse. Americans deserve prosperity, economic growth, and energy independence — and that’s exactly what they aren’t getting from the Biden administration. Now, out-of-touch liberals in Washington, D.C. are delivering tax hikes, more reckless spending, and an army of 87,000 IRS bureaucrats to grab more from families who have less. Recently, 369 economists signed a letter organized by AFPI that expresses how this bill will worsen inflation.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) released this statement when the Senate passed the bill. “Last year, Democrats jammed through trillions of dollars in reckless spending that fueled the worst inflation in 40 years. Now, Democrats insist on pouring fuel on the fire with another partisan tax-and-spending spree that will only further exacerbate a recession we’re already likely in.

“To fund new ‘green’ corporate welfare and give Obamacare subsidies to wealthy Americans, this legislation forces short-sighted tax hikes on American businesses and imposes innovation-crippling price controls on life-saving medicines. And contrary to the bill’s name, non-partisan analysts have confirmed that it does nothing to alleviate the inflation tax Americans are feeling every day,” said Toomey.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) tweeted after the House approved the proposal, “We’ve passed the Inflation Reduction Act! For families, seniors, and our future. That’ll lower health care costs, cut prescription drug prices, including capping Medicare insulin at $35 — and the largest investment in our climate. We all should be proud of this work.”

After voting for the bill, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) said, “The Inflation Reduction Act is a historic victory for Pennsylvania families and for our planet: delivering the investments we need to keep down health care costs, reinvigorate American manufacturing, and drive our transition to a clean energy economy. Importantly, the bill is fully paid for by ensuring that corporations can’t dodge their taxes – while ensuring that not one middle-class Pennsylvanian or small business pays a cent more in taxes. This legislation is a monumental step forward in House Democrats’ fight to build a fairer, cleaner economy, as we remain committed to putting People Over Politics: lowering costs, creating better-paying jobs, and building safer communities for all.”

Dave Galluch, the Republican running against Scanlon, said, “Despite its name, the bill does little for working families. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said the bill ‘will, in fact, have a minimal impact on inflation.’ That sentiment is confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). So, we must ask – how does spending an additional $700 billion, raising taxes on working families, and hiring more IRS agents bring down inflation? Without mentioning spiraling costs for families, my opponent Mary Gay Scanlon celebrates this bill as the ‘the largest-ever federal effort on climate change.’ The legislation primarily consists of subsidies for green technology like solar panels and electric vehicles. Yet the average cost of installation for solar panels is nearly $20,000. The $4,000 and $7,500 tax credits for used and new electric vehicles will do little to reduce a current average price of roughly $66,000.

“This bill does nothing to help those struggling in the Fifth Congressional District now. It is another example of failed, out-of-touch leadership we must move on from this November,” Galluch said.

Guy Ciarrocchi, the Republican running for Congress against Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester) said, “The number one issue for everyone is Inflation. That’s why I would have been an emphatic “No” vote on Biden’s so-called ‘Inflation Reduction Act.’ From Wharton to CBS, analysts have stated that the spending bill won’t lower inflation—in fact, it might make inflation worse.

“What we need is $2 gas; yet, Houlahan gives us 87,000 more IRS agents, who will harass small businesses and families. She won’t help us; so, I’m running to fix this mess,” he said.

But Democrat National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said, “President Biden and Democrats have delivered – and today, the American people won and the special interests lost. Today, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, taking the action the American people are looking for to lower the costs of prescription drugs, energy, and health care. It will also reduce the deficit — helping fight inflation. On top of that, this bill will take aggressive action to fight the climate crisis that will create jobs and increase our energy security.”

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) said on Facebook before the bill passing the House: “The reconciliation bill coming to the House floor tomorrow adds $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service – nearly six times the agency’s current annual budget – and adds 87,000 new IRS enforcement personnel to pursue taxpayers, including the middle class.

“Wouldn’t we be better off hiring 87,000 new school resource officers and police officers to keep our schools and our communities safe?” Fitzpatrick asked.

American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Mike Sommers said, “While the Inflation Reduction Act takes important steps toward new oil and gas leasing and investments in carbon capture and storage, it falls well short of addressing America’s long-term energy needs and further discourages needed investment in oil and gas. API shares the goal of addressing climate change, as evidenced in the policies we support and in the actions that our industry is taking every day. However, the considerable tax increases are simply the wrong policies at the wrong time.

“From a new corporate minimum tax to an $11.7 billion tax on crude oil and petroleum products to a new natural gas tax, this legislation imposes additional costs on American families and businesses at a time when policymakers should be looking for solutions to provide relief.

“The bill also fails to address permitting reform, which is essential to effectively delivering affordable, reliable energy to consumers in a growing economy,” said Sommers.

“Without a comprehensive plan for critical investment in American oil and natural gas and associated infrastructure, which provide nearly 70 percent of our country’s energy needs, the American people will continue to bear the brunt of short-sighted policies in Washington,” he said.

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PA Treasurer Garrity: 87,000 New IRS Agents ‘Startling Overreach’

The state’s treasurer and tax experts are worried that a new Democrat-backed deal might be Uncle Sam’s way of weaseling into the wallets of more Pennsylvanians after lawmakers passed a massive reconciliation bill that would boost the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget by $80 billion over the next decade.

The Senate passed the bill along party lines with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, moving it a step closer to a House vote. All of the Democrats in Pennsylvania’s delegation, including Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Susan Wild are expected to vote for the $739 billion spending deal.

If signed into law by President Joe Biden, it would allocate more than half of the new IRS funding, $45.6 billion, toward beefing up enforcement by hiring about 87,000 new agents, roughly doubling the size of the tax agency.

Critics complained only a fraction of the new investment would go toward processing return backlogs and enhancing customer services at an agency that is notoriously difficult to reach.

“Giving the Internal Revenue Service a massive $80 billion increase should send shivers down the spines of small business owners and the American middle-class,” Republican State Treasurer Stacy Garrity told DVJournal. “Everyone should pay the taxes they owe, but this is a startling overreach by the federal government. Small businesses are the heart of our economy, and as we continue to recover from the pandemic and face the effects of super-charged inflation, hitting them with teams of IRS auditors is absolutely the wrong thing to do.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the investment is projected to haul in $203.7 billion in revenue from 2022 to 2031.

Tax attorneys echoed the state treasurer’s concerns, fearing everyday taxpayers would bear the brunt of increased enforcement efforts rather than large corporations and wealthy Americans.

They pointed out training new agents takes between six months and a year before they would be ready to receive low-level enforcement cases likely worth thousands — rather than millions — of dollars.

“This is horrible. This is the worst type of legislation, the worst spending bill yet,” tax lawyer Richard Booker said. “The Democrats have outdone themselves.”

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, looking to assuage GOP concerns, wrote to lawmakers that the cash infusion would “absolutely not [be] about increasing audit scrutiny on small businesses or middle-income Americans.”

But critics said it was hard to take Rettig at his word and accused Democrats of using the bill as a “revenue generator” to give Americans a false sense that they are interested in addressing the issue of inflation ahead of the midterm elections.

“I think he’s lying,” Booker said. “He knows they wouldn’t have asked for it unless they knew what they’re going to do with it.”

For example, the IRS was caught targeting conservatives during the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election. The Obama IRS official who admitted the agency’s misbehavior, Lois Lerner, was allowed to retire with a full pension and the agency later destroyed materials related to the scandal that were under subpoena.

Also last year, the leftwing news site Pro Publica reported details from what it described as a “trove” of private tax returns it had obtained of some of America’s wealthiest citizens—15 years worth. Leaking those private, personal documents is a felony, yet tens of thousands of pages were delivered to the liberal media.

The IRS said in its 2021 annual report it identified about $2.2 billion in tax fraud and initiated more than 1,300 investigations into allegations of tax-related crimes, recommending 850 of those cases for criminal prosecution.

Those numbers are a drop in the bucket, experts said, as IRS audits plunged by 44 percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, with the biggest declines among the wealthy, CNBC reported, citing a 2021 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Audit rates for Americans making $5 million or more dropped to about 2 percent in 2019, down from 16 percent in 2010, the outlet reported.

In Pennsylvania, the number of state-led audits and tax-related prosecutions was even lower between fiscal years 2017 and 2022. The state Department of Revenue reported 10,651 field audits for that time frame and only 68 prosecutions for the same period.

State officials brought no tax crime cases against anyone in 2020 partly because of widespread government shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and only seven cases last year, a department spokesman said,

Gregory M. McCauley, who runs his own tax firm in Chadds Ford, said the IRS historically has targeted tax protestors, along with individuals and companies that will make “newspaper splashes.”

He mentioned the case of the Ocean City Boardwalk pizza chain, Manco & Manco as an example, saying his office received calls from other frightened pizza-shop owners after the feds indicted Charles Bangle for tax evasion.

Bangle was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2017 after prosecutors failed to report more than $263,000 in income and avoided paying more than $91,00 in taxes.

“They go after big numbers,” McCauley said. “After that case, we got calls from 10 or 15 pizza places who said, ‘We need to talk.’ It’s done for the deterrent effect. They’re looking for a poster child, someone who is going to cause people to say, ‘I need to change my ways.’”

Veteran GOP communications professional Patrick Hynes tweeted, “Replace ‘FBI’ with ‘IRS’ and replace ‘Trump’ with ‘Trump voters’ and you get the gist of the reconciliation bill and those 87,000 new enforcement agents.”

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WILFORD: Dysfunctional IRS Can’t Be Trusted to Pre-Fill Tax Forms

Tax filing season is here, and with it all the hassle of filling out your taxes. Tax filing is certainly an enormous time sink — it’s estimated that taxpayers spent over 6 billion hours last year complying with the tax code. But while tax filing should be made far simpler, taxpayers should be wary of proposals for the Internal Revenue Service to simply send them pre-filled tax forms.

The argument goes like this: Rather than having to shoulder the burden of filing your own taxes, the IRS should do it for you. After all, doesn’t the agency already know about the income you receive from your job? The theory goes that this would allow the IRS to just send you a notice of how much they think you owe, rather than put you through the trouble of filling out a form yourself and (perhaps) making a mistake. Taxpayers could then choose to contest or accept the IRS’s math.

That might be easier for some taxpayers, but for many it would come at the cost of having to pay more in taxes. Putting the responsibility of calculating your taxes in the hands of the agency primarily responsible for extracting revenue creates an obvious conflict of interest. What’s more, the IRS’s calculations may cause taxpayers to miss out credits and deductions if it doesn’t know you qualify for them.

But even if taxpayers could count on the IRS to have their best interests at heart (they can’t), there’s little reason to think the IRS can handle the responsibility. After all, the IRS is in bad enough shape trying to take care of the duties it already has this filing season.

Last year’s filing season contained an unusually high number of “math error” notices, in which the IRS contests a taxpayer’s claimed tax liability. Taxpayers can choose to accept the IRS’s “adjustment” or contest it, much like what would happen if the IRS filled out taxpayers’ tax returns for them, just on a smaller scale. Last year the IRS issued nearly 14 million such notices, up from 700,000 the year before. Of these, 6.2 million taxpayers responded contesting the IRS’s adjustment.

That’s been a nightmare for the IRS. It’s taking the agency an average of nearly 200 days to respond to taxpayers contesting a math error notice. Now imagine if instead of having to respond to “just” 6 million taxpayers contesting their tax assessment, the IRS had to do it for tens of millions of taxpayers.

If the IRS was filling out your taxes, you’d probably want to be able to contact them. Well good luck; even now, contacting the IRS is nearly impossible. Of the 282 million calls it received last year, it failed to answer 250 million, for a response rate of 11 percent. Callers counted themselves lucky if they even had the opportunity to get through to a representative and wait on hold.

You may also think that you just wouldn’t bother contesting the IRS’s math. There’s a good chance the IRS’s version of your pre-filled tax return wouldn’t merely skip claiming a credit or deduction you might think you qualify for, but contain factually incorrect information.

That’s been the experience of possibly millions of taxpayers who received the monthly Advance Child Tax Credit this year. The IRS sent out notices to recipients that purportedly detail how much money taxpayers received from the ACTC for use on their tax filings. The problem: for many taxpayers, the numbers the agency sent are wrong. Taxpayers receiving the wrong information are in a tough position. Even if they notice the error, good luck getting in contact with the IRS to fix their faulty numbers.

You may also be thinking that other countries manage to send their taxpayers pre-filled tax forms. And while that’s true, it’s largely because they have far simpler tax codes. The myriad of deductions (above the line and below the line) and credits (refundable and non-refundable) make pre-filled tax forms impractical under the current tax code, even if the IRS were on top of things.

So if you’re struggling through your tax-filing process this season and wishing that the IRS would just do it for you, you might want to reconsider that wish. As long as the IRS is as dysfunctional as it is, you’re better off doing it yourself.

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After Face-off With Critics, IRS Scraps Plans for Facial ID Tech

The Internal Revenue Service has abandoned plans to force taxpayers to a private facial-recognition system to access their online accounts, the agency announced this week. But critics say the now-foiled effort is part of an ongoing expansion of the frightening federal agency into more of our lives.

In a statement announcing it is dropping the program, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said, “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured.” Based on the reaction, few Americans were comfortable giving the feds a face scan.

In a letter to Rettig objecting to the plan, signed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and other ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee, said in part, “We have serious concerns about how may affect confidential taxpayer information and fundamental civil liberties.”

“The most intrusive verification item is the required ‘selfie,’ which is much more than simply uploading a picture; it is submitting one’s face to be digitally analyzed by into a ‘faceprint.’ Additionally, using appears to subject taxpayers to the terms of three separate agreements filled with dense legal fine print: a privacy policy agreement, a terms of service agreement, and a ‘Biometric Data Consent and Policy,'”  the letter stated.

According to Emory University Professor Usha Rackliffe, taxpayers using to pay their taxes or check on their balance would have to upload a video of themselves, along with a government-issued photo ID. Under the original plan, that would have to be done by the summer of 2022 to access older tax returns and information regarding the federal Child Tax Credit. It would not, Rackliffe said, impact the process of filing a tax return.

Rackliffe has serious objections to the IRS’s use of the technology, as do civil liberties organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future.

“The IRS’s plan to use facial recognition on people who are just trying to access their tax information online was a profound threat to everyone’s security and civil liberties,” Fight for the Future’s Caitlin Seeley George said in a statement. “We’re glad to see that grassroots activism and backlash from lawmakers and experts has forced the agency to back down.”

Even Biden administration allies backed away from the IRS initiative.  Interestingly, one civil rights figure who doesn’t object is Rackliffe’s fellow Georgian, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young.

“I am on the other side,” Young told InsideSources. “I am for anything that is going to make people more secure and more free. I think facial recognition software is already used in just about every government office.”

He went on to say he is for photo (or video) ID in nearly every situation.

“We could have a voter ID with a picture on it. All the president would have to do is make an executive order. You could even put fingerprints in it. It can work for other things too. Whatever you sign up for, take a picture. It would only be a problem for those with a criminal record, but that is already a problem.

“India does it. That is a country with over a billion people,” Young added.

For Rackliffe, there are three areas of concern.

“The first concern is the accuracy of the software. With technology always comes challenges. The facial recognition software uses biometric scanning. So, it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to validate you are who you say you are. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, studies have shown that if you have a darker skin tone, perhaps it may not always be accurate in identifying you. With the false negatives and false positives, the rates have been higher with people of a darker skin tone.”

Rackliffe is also uncomfortable with the IRS relying on an outside vendor like

“This is a third-party company that you have between yourself and the government,” Rackliffe said. “That always makes people nervous. This is a company the government has opted to contract with to collect and keep that information. This can make people nervous because we often hear about companies being hacked and sensitive information being compromised.”

And, she notes, neither the IRS nor have laid out the nuts and bolts of their collection process or how information is stored.

“There are all these questions and concerns about who will have this information and what are they going to do with it. You could look at this as one-on-one face identification, like an iPhone. But there is a larger concern that it might be a facial recognition database. There are many questions like, will the information be given to law enforcement? These questions come up because the IRS has not come forward with who will have access to this information or how it may be used.

“We can all agree the use of technology to catch a bad guy is a good thing,” Rackliffe said. “But when does it become government overreach?”

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