Dan Mitchell: Ryan is right to point out that the IRS is undeserving because of bad behavior. He mentions the Lois Lerner/Tea Party scandal. I think the recent leak of taxpayer data is equally reprehensible!

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April 15 is usually the worst day of the year, giving Americans ample reasons to both laugh and cry.*

Because of a holiday in Washington, D.C., however, tax returns this year are due on April 18.

So let’s celebrate (or commiserate) this awful day by wading into the debate about whether the Internal Revenue Service should have a bigger budget.

Proponents usually claim the IRS is under-funded by comparing today’s budget to how much the bureaucracy received in 2011.

But that was a one-year spike because of all the money in Obama’s failed stimulus package. If you review long-run data, you can see that the IRS’s budget has increased significantly.

And these numbers are adjusted for inflation.

But perhaps proponents are right, even if they use deceptive numbers.

The Washington Post has a new editorial on this topic, arguing that the bureaucracy needs more money.

The IRS is currently limping along without enough staff or funding. Congress, especially Republicans, needs to face up to reality. …It’s not a mystery how the IRS deteriorated. …the core problem is that Republicans slashed the IRS budget about 18 percent in the past decade. That’s not belt-tightening, it’s gutting an agency. …The Biden administration is rightly asking for a big increase for 2023 (a request of $14.1 billion). This isn’t some Democratic wish list item; it’s about restoring the basic functions of America’s tax collection agency.

When this topic was being debated last year, Ryan Ellis explained that the IRS will target small businesses if it gets a bigger budget.

Here are some excerpts from his piece in National Review.

…the idea is that if taxpayers fund the IRS to the tune of $40 billion over the next decade, the IRS will step up audits and collect an additional $100 billion in tax revenue, penalties, and interest. This is lauded as a good because of the supposed “tax gap,”… Apparently, it doesn’t occur to anyone that the IRS, which is seeking this extra $40 billion in taxpayer funding, has every incentive in the world to exaggerate this “tax gap” and to make wild promises about the new money that additional enforcement will yield for the Treasury. …Giving money to IRS bureaucrats to conduct fishing expedition audits on millions of honest self-employed people? The same IRS behind the Lois Lerner scandal a decade ago, when the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative political groups during the 2012 election season, when Obama was running for reelection?

Ryan is right to point out that the IRS is undeserving because of bad behavior.

He mentions the Lois Lerner/Tea Party scandal. I think the recent leak of taxpayer data is equally reprehensible.

Advocates of more funding will argue that the bureaucracy’s malfeasance is a separate issue and that more employees and more audits are needed regardless of whether criminals at the IRS are caught and punished.

But this brings us to another important topic, which is whether it would be best to fix the underlying tax laws instead of throwing more money at the IRS.

In a column for the Louisville Courier-Times, we get this point of view from Richard Williams of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

…money won’t fix this problem. …Another approach would be drastically reducing the complexity of federal taxes. …The Tax Foundation estimates that we give up 3.24 billion hours and $37 billion to comply with federal taxes each year. Given the headaches and anxiety that come with this, Americans don’t need more IRS workers. We need a leaner agency…individual filers and small businesses represent a huge proportion of the public who would gain from simplification. …There is no need to hire more people to oversee a reformed system. What’s not to like?

Amen.

When proponents say the IRS needs more money, they implicitly are arguing for the current, convoluted tax system.

They want the IRS to be in the business of collecting revenue. But that’s just one role.

And that’s just a brief list of the things that the IRS now does in addition to generating revenue.

Get rid of these added roles, ideally as part of a total replacement of the tax code with a flat tax, and the discussion would be about how much money could be saved by reducing the IRS’s budget.

But that means less power for politicians, so don’t hold your breath waiting for genuine tax reform.

That being said, supporters of good policy should feel no obligation to help prop up the current system by shoveling more money to the IRS.

An underfunded corrupt IRS administering a bad tax code is better than a well-funded corrupt IRS administering a bad tax code.

*April 15 may be the worst day of the year, but there’s an argument to be made that October 3 is the worst day in history.

P.S. From my archives, here are some examples of the bureaucrats who will benefit from a bigger IRS budget.

P.P.P.S. And since we’re recycling some oldies but goodies, here’s my collection of IRS humor, including a new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

IRS not only hated Tea Party but also the Constitution!!!

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 11:57AM

Targeting the Constitution

[Cross-posted from The Volokh Conspiracy]

It is now well known that the IRS targeted tea party organizations. What is less well known, but perhaps even more scandalous, is that the IRS also targeted those who would educate their fellow citizens about the United States Constitution.

According to the inspector general’s report (pp. 30 & 38), this particular IRS targeting commenced on Jan. 25, 2012 — the beginning of the election year for President Obama’s second campaign. On that date: “the BOLO [‘be on the lookout’] criteria were again updated.” The revised criteria included “political action type organizations involved in … educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

Grass-roots organizations around the country, such as the Linchpins of Liberty (Tennessee), the Spirit of Freedom Institute (Wyoming), and the Constitutional Organization of Liberty (Pennsylvania), allege that they were singled out for special scrutiny at least in part for their work in constitutional education. There may have been many more.

The tea party is viewed with general suspicion in some quarters, and it is not difficult, alas, to imagine the mindset of the officials who decided to target tea party organizations for special scrutiny. But federal officers swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It is chilling to think that these same officials who are suspicious of the tea party are equally suspicious of the Constitution itself.

What is most corrosive about this IRS tripwire is that it is triggered by a particular point of view; it is not, as First Amendment scholars say, viewpoint-neutral. It does not includeobfuscating or denigrating the Constitution; only those “involved in … educating on the Constitution” are captured by this criterion. This viewpoint targeting potentially skews every national debate about politics or government. And the skew in not strictly liberal; indeed, it should trouble liberals as much as conservatives. The ultimate checks on executive power are to be found in the United States Constitution. Insidiously, then, suppressing those “involved in … educating on the Constitution” actually skews national debate in favor of unchecked executive power.

For example, this IRS tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the NSA should collect the phone records of every American citizen. But it would be triggered by teaching that the Fourth Amendment forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the president should unilaterally suspend politically inconvenient provisions of federal law, like ObamaCare. But it would be triggered by teaching that, under Article II, section 3, the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” This tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the president should appoint NLRB members unilaterally. But it would be triggered by teaching that, under Article II, section 2, such appointments require “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” This tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the president should target and kill U.S. citizens abroad. But it would be triggered by teaching that, per the Fifth Amendment, no person shall “be deprived of life … without due process of law.” This tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the president should declare war unilaterally. But it would be triggered by teaching that, under Article I, section 8, “Congress shall have Power … To declare War.” In short, the IRS was “on the lookout,” not for those who preach unlimited executive power, but for those who would teach about constitutional constraints.

Even more to the point, perhaps, this IRS tripwire would not be triggered by arguing that the IRS should discriminate against the tea party. But it would be triggered by teaching that such discrimination constitutes unfaithful execution of the tax laws. And thus, alas, there is a perverse logic to targeting constitutional educators alongside tea party organizations. Political discrimination in the administration of the tax laws is not merely “outrageous,” as President Obama has said; it is an assault on our constitutional structure itself. For an official who has chosen to go down this road and target the tea party, there is an Orwellian logic to targeting constitutional educators as well. After all, they are the ones who might shed light on this very point.

This is a new low for American government — targeting those who would teach others about its founding document. Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon went to great lengths to try to conceal the facts of his constitutional violations, but it never occurred to him to conceal the meaning of the Constitution itself, by targeting its teachers. Politicians have always been tempted to try to censor their political adversaries; but none has been so bold as to try to suppress constitutional education directly. Presidents have always sought to push against the constitutional limits of their power; but never have they targeted those who merely teach about such limits. In short, never before has the federal government singled out for special scrutiny those who would teach their fellow citizens about our magnificent Constitution. This is the new innovation of Obama’s IRS.

“We the People” do not yet know who first decided to target “political action type organizations involved in … educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.” But there is at least one person who does know. Ironically, though, Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, is making full use of her own constitutional education: “I have been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify …. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.”

Five years ago, President Obama, our constitutional law professor-in-chief, presented his first, ringing Constitution Day proclamation: “To succeed, the democracy established in our Constitution requires the active participation of its citizenry. Each of us has a responsibility to learn about our Constitution and teach younger generations about its contents and history.” Quite so. Perhaps this year, Obama could explain why his IRS would target those who answered this call.

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