Mar-a-Lago research and IRS funding spur calls for police funding – right
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Over the weekend, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a concisely named bill that includes a series of new measures. Among them is increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service, to the tune of some $80 billion over the next decade. This funding includes plans to increase IRS staff by nearly 87,000 full-time employees over the same period.
The administration’s argument for the move is that the agency has been stretched thin in recent years, making it less effective. Adding funds and staff will partly pay for itself, the argument goes, because the agency will be better able to identify tax evasion. In recent years, the total number of IRS employees and the number of reviewers and collectors have not increased significantly and are at levels of almost 20 years ago. , when there were 30% fewer declarants.
The additional $80 billion in spending is expected to bring in $124 billion in revenue from better enforcement. But, for obvious reasons, Democrats are keen to make it clear that only high-income Americans will see more frequent audits.
“[T]The additional resources will go to enforcement against those with the highest incomes,” the administration’s explanation of funding explains, “and audit rates will not increase from past years for those who earn less than $400,000 in actual income.
The specter of tens of thousands more IRS agents, however, was hard for Republicans to resist. Of course, all those 87,000 extra employees wouldn’t be in charge of digging through tax returns, but some were — and who wants that!
So we have Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) intone on “BIDEN’S SHADOW ARMY,” a crew that “would target regular, everyday Americans,” and GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel Attention that those taking part-time jobs to pay their bills are “exactly the people the IRS’s 87,000 new agents are likely to go to.” Etc.
It is very helpful to consider this rhetoric in the larger context of the recent law enforcement debate. People like Cruz and McDaniel probably aren’t worried about the overreach of their local police departments. Above all, they understand that this is not something their constituents are terribly worried about. Complaints that city police might treat certain segments of the population differently than others — disproportionately shooting them, searching them more — aren’t things Cruz and McDaniel’s bases lose sleep over.
But an audit? Sure. So the idea of the IRS gaining influence is concerning, particularly because there had been an effective tax police funding movement for years that is now reversing. In 1999, there were 60 examination and collection officers for every 1,000 filers declaring income of $500,000 or more. Two decades later, there were only 17.
That was the state of play until around 7 p.m. Monday. I made these graphics in the hope of writing about the response to IRS funding in this context. Then suddenly I had a new example: FBI agents had searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Before long, the office became the target of even fiercer opposition. Take this, from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
FUND THE FBI!
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) August 9, 2022
It’s not irony. It is Greene who extends his belief that the FBI’s targeting of Mar-a-Lago was an unacceptable overreach to a specific conclusion: the bureau is too powerful and should be limited. She co-opts the verbiage of those who view local police departments with the same skepticism, but she is not sincere in her request.
As with the IRS, complaints about the FBI – and Greene was by Nope means only by offering one — were rooted in assumptions about what agencies did or would do. Republicans and conservative media very quickly criticized the bureau for overstepping the bounds in conducting its research, despite the lack of information about what was being researched or what laws the government (and the judge who approved the research ) believed to have been committed. Thanks in large part to years of dishonest representations from those same parties and Trump himself about the FBI unfairly targeting him, Republicans were quick to brand the partisan research unacceptable, like a political strike by their opponents.
At no time should we give law enforcement the reflexive benefit of the doubt that they operate with complete candor and objectivity, certainly. Any use of government force – from arrests to searches to financial reviews – must be conducted with transparency and impartiality, which demands our collective oversight and scrutiny.
But it’s impossible not to notice how the response to Mar-a-Lago’s research and IRS expansion reveals the chasm in the kinds of surveillance Americans fear. Black Americans in particular have drawn attention in recent years to how police departments apply force, including lethal force, prompting the political right to widely surround railcars in defense of cops. When, however, cops work for the IRS or target a popular Republican political figure — even one with a long track record of blurring legal lines — that reflexive support evaporates. Instead, there is default skepticism and concern about systemic issues. Which, to the original proponents of “defund the police,” will sound familiar.
A refrain that emerged following the Mar-a-Lago raid was that it demonstrated how far federal law enforcement was willing to go. “If they can target a president, they can target you,” the joint line read. Aside from the unique circumstances here — if the search was aimed, as noted, at classified documents that Trump kept in his home, that’s an uncommon situation — a fair answer is: sure. Yeah, if the feds or the police think a law has been broken, they might search my house too. And sometimes that research will be specious. Sometimes the police engage in cover-ups to protect themselves. It can happen to you, indeed – but, on some levels, it seems to happen to some people more than others.
If you demand accountability for the law enforcement officers you fear but not the ones you don’t, you’re not demanding law enforcement accountability.