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Republican campaigns targeting IRS could endanger employees, union warns

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A major federal union is urging the removal of campaign ads “that deliberately lie about the IRS and its employees,” potentially putting them at risk.

“In today’s epidemic of political violence, I am concerned for the safety of the employees we represent,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, the government’s second-largest trade union organization, which represents IRS employees.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a message to staff in August that officials were aware of “threats directed against the IRS and its employees.” The agency, he added, is carrying out risk assessments “given the current environment” and “carrying out a comprehensive review of existing safety and security measures”.

A report released last week by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said “threat reports have increased rapidly” against the IRS, following the approval of legislation increasing the staffing of IRS. agencies and the return of workers to offices as the covid-19 pandemic slowed.

Union officials provided examples of misleading ads — all supporting Republicans. They focus on reports that the IRS could hire 87,000 employees under the Cut Inflation Act, signed by President Biden in August.

The ads are misleading because they promote the misconception that the law authorizes 87,000 new IRS agents to harass workers. First, the number 87,000 is a previous estimate of IRS hirings over 10 years. They would not be above the current workforce of 78,000, as the agency expects to lose 52,000 employees through attrition in just five years.

Also, most hires would not be taxpayer audit agents. Some would be customer service employees, who would help improve an agency that has suffered from years of underfunding and understaffing. That contributed to long waits for customer service over the phone, if calls were answered, and a $600 billion a year shortfall, according to the IRS.

The ads reflect years of conservative antipathy toward the IRS and taxes in general, and a Republican belief that the legislation can be a useful medium-term political campaign weapon against Biden and the Democrats. Political spots include:

• A Wisconsin ad by Sen. Ron Johnson (R) that says his challenger, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes (D), is ‘supporting 87,000 new IRS agents chasing you.’ Johnson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

• A Republican National Committee spot that shows Fox News host Dana Perino, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, discussing fears of giving “the taxman unprecedented power to spy on all your bank accounts”. Another voice warns against “empowering the IRS to drive out the majority of these families who are the very essence of the backbone of our economy.” The committee did not respond to a request for comment.

• An announcement from the Senate Leadership Fund that says Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) “voted to hire 87,000 new IRS employees to dig even deeper into the pockets of the middle class” . The fund is allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The fund’s advertisement cited by NTEU is not currently in use, but “even still, we maintain the truthfulness of our advertising,” a spokesperson said.

• An ad by Rep. Ted Budd (RN.C.), who says his Senate campaign opponent, Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court justice, supports “87,000 more IRS officers… to harass small businesses and workers”. A spokesperson for Budd said the union was “playing partisan politics.”

• A Club for Growth Action ad against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) that features actors in dark suits marching in military formation. A voiceover says, “Cortez Masto spends, then sends his massive IRS to middle-class families to pay for it.” The organization promotes conservative economic policies.

Club for Growth President David McIntosh pointed to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that “some of the increased revenue will be collected from taxpayers with incomes below $400,000.” His email, however, did not mention the report’s statement that, in “the CBO’s estimate, the IRS will comply with the [Treasury] Secretary’s directive regarding the portion of audits devoted to small businesses or households with incomes under $400,000.

This directive, outlined in an August letter from Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to Rettig, said: Specifically, I direct that any additional resources – including any new staff or auditors hired – not be used to increase the share of small businesses or households below the $400,000 threshold that are audited from historical levels. . This means that, contrary to misinformation from opponents of this legislation, small businesses or households earning $400,000 a year or less will not see their chances of being audited increase.

Yellen also said that “for ordinary taxpayers…the result of this injection of resources will be a lower likelihood of audit by an agency that has the data and technology infrastructure in place to target application resources where they are.” belong – at the upper end of the income distribution. , where it is estimated that the top 1% alone do not pay $160 billion in taxes owed each year. »

McIntosh said that “claims by Yellen and the IRS Special Interest Group [meaning NTEU] are partisan lies.

None of the sponsoring organizations backed down from the ads in the face of NTEU criticism or agreed to remove them. The NTEU backs Democrats in Senate races in Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina. During this election cycle, the union’s political action committee paid more than $300,000 to congressional candidates, about 95% of which went to Democrats, according to Thursday’s report from Open Secrets, which tracks campaign spending.

“House and Senate candidates across the country are using deception and fear to try to win elections,” Reardon complained. “For the safety of IRS staff, I call on these political candidates and committees to remove their advertisements that misrepresent IRS employees and their role in our democracy.”

washingtonpost

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