Republican budgeteers are once again taking aim at the Internal Revenue Service—which has had its budget trimmed by $1 billion since 2010.
This week, House Republicans proposed cutting $838 million from the tax agency’s 2016 budget, a roughly eight percent cut at a time when IRS officials consistently claim that the agency is severely underfunded and overburdened with new enforcement responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP has punished the IRS with cuts over the last few years after the agency was embroiled in a handful of scandals, including the targeting of conservative groups, as well as hosting lavish conferences and parties at the taxpayers’ expense.
“Every day, Americans are making tough decisions about their own budgets and rightfully expect federal agencies to do the same,” said Representative Ander Crenshaw, a Florida Republican who oversees the IRS budget.
The GOP’s proposal provides $2.8 billion less than President Obama’s request to increase the agency’s budget by 18 percent in order to respond to the influx of calls from taxpayers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that between 1997 and 2012, the IRS budget increased 64 percent to $11.8 billion in nominal dollars. At the same time, the increase in electronic filing increased dramatically. In 2014, 80 percent of all taxpayers—or 117 million taxpayers—filed returns electronically. In addition, 71.2 million tax professionals e-filed.
The IRS receives about 100 million phone calls a year from taxpayers, some of which are answered by an automated system.
In the past, the Republican House would have to negotiate the proposed cuts with the Senate, formerly controlled by Democrats who would traditionally reject the cuts. This year, however, with Republicans in full control of Congress, the agency is likely heading for another budget slashing.
On top of the cuts, the GOP proposal also takes a swipe at Obamacare through a provision that would stop the IRS from enforcing the law’s individual mandate-a key staple of the law.
The IRS plays a major role in the entire Obamacare implementation. Under the law, the IRS is tasked with enforcing at least 40 new provisions—a massive undertaking. The latest GOP budget proposal was immediately attacked by Democrats, agency advocates and union organizations.
The National Treasury Employees Union came out swinging against the proposal—saying the cuts would be extremely damaging to the agency’s overall efforts.
“Slashing the IRS budget by almost $840 million below the current level and $2.8 billion below the President’s request will further degrade its already impaired ability to provide taxpayers with the assistance they need and fairly enforce the tax laws enacted by Congress,” National President Colleen M. Kelley wrote in a letter to the members of the financial services subcommittee.
The group issued similar warnings last year, when Congress cut the IRS budget by $346 million. At the time, tax advocate Nina Olson warned that the cuts severely hampered the agency’s ability to respond to taxpayers during the 2015 tax filing season.
"We do not think it is acceptable for the government to tell millions of taxpayers who seek help each year, in essence, 'We’re sorry. You’re on your own,'" Olson said in the National Taxpayer Advocate 2014 annual report to Congress.
If the GOP’s proposed budget goes through, taxpayers can expect next year’s filing season to be even worse.
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