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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today criticized the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS’s) failure to deliver basic customer services and the negative effect it has on South Dakota taxpayers. Thune noted that rather than improving taxpayer services, Washington Democrats have instead prioritized doubling the size of the agency in order to raise revenue to help pay for their reckless and partisan tax-and-spending spree.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, Tax Day 2022 is fast approaching, and Americans around the country are prepping their tax returns.
“If you talked to most Americans, I don’t think you’d find that the IRS is their favorite government agency.
“And with good reason.
“The agency has gained a reputation for poor taxpayer service.
“And last tax filing season was particularly miserable for taxpayers.
“‘If you call the IRS, there’s only a 1-in-50 chance you’ll reach a human being,’ noted a headline in the Washington Post last April.
“The national taxpayer advocate noted in her 2021 report to Congress that, quote, ‘Calendar year 2021 was surely the most challenging year taxpayers and tax professionals have ever experienced – long processing and refund delays, difficulty reaching the IRS by phone, correspondence that went unprocessed for many months, collection notices issued while taxpayer correspondence was awaiting processing, limited or no information on the Where’s My Refund? tool for delayed returns …’
“And bad customer service isn’t the only thing tarnishing the IRS’ reputation.
“The IRS has also gained a reputation for mishandling the confidential taxpayer information it has access to.
“In fact, the IRS was recently subject to a massive leak or hack of private taxpayer information – information that somehow ended up in the hands of advocates at ProPublica, an outfit that promotes progressive causes and went on to publish taxpayers’ private information last June.
“And months later, neither the Treasury Department nor the IRS has provided meaningful follow-up about the data breach, much less any accountability.
“And who could forget the IRS scandal during the Obama administration, when the IRS targeted a number of organizations based on their political beliefs.
“Nor did the IRS inspire confidence a few months ago when it announced it would start requiring taxpayers to submit biometric data in order to access certain IRS services.
“Fortunately, after Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and others weighed in, the IRS abandoned its plans to allow the harvesting of taxpayers’ biometric data, but it was a concerning instance of government overreach from an agency notable for repeated mishandling of private taxpayer information.
“Mr. President, the IRS was a frequent subject of discussion in regard to Democrats’ so-called Build Back Better plan.
“It would have been nice if this was because Democrats had proposed a real plan to improve taxpayer services and increase agency accountability.
“What they proposed in their Build Back Better plan was a massive increase in funding for the IRS – $80 billion – essentially doubling the size of the agency – without any plan for ensuring improvements to basic taxpayer services.
“Mr. President, I’m hard-pressed to imagine why anyone would contemplate handing a massive budget increase to the IRS without simultaneously prioritizing a plan to substantially increase accountability and improve taxpayer services.
“But, of course, Democrats weren’t interested in improving taxpayer services.
“Their main interest in handing the IRS a supersized budget increase was to increase tax collections to raise revenue to help pay for their partisan tax-and-spending spree.
“It’s the same reason why they included a provision – until widespread public opposition forced them to remove it – that would have allowed the IRS to examine the details of Americans’ bank accounts.
“Under one version of this provision, the IRS would have been able to sift through the bank records of any American with just $600 in annual transactions.
“In other words, the IRS would have been able to look through the bank records of just about every American and find out just how much you spent on Starbucks or your last doctor’s bill or that new pair of running shoes.
“Mr. President, Republicans are not opposed to enhancing resources for the IRS if needed to improve taxpayer services.
“But any enhanced resources for the IRS must be paired with serious reform, including measures to improve customer service, ensure that existing resources are being used optimally, and promote smarter and more effective audits.
“I am a co-sponsor of Senator Crapo’s Tax Gap Reform and IRS Enforcement Act, which would codify additional protections for taxpayers against IRS overreach.
“Among other things, the legislation would help ensure that the IRS is not able to target taxpayers for their political and ideological beliefs, and it would prohibit the kind of bank reporting requirements that Democrats sought to impose in their Build Back Better spending spree.
“It would also take steps to increase IRS expertise and improve the audit process.
“And it would improve the information we have on the tax gap – the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid.
“Reducing the size of the tax gap and improving enforcement of our tax laws is something we should look at, but any effort has to balance taxpayer responsibilities with taxpayer rights.
“Vastly increasing the size of the IRS without any new accountability or agency oversight, as Democrats wanted to do with their Build Back Better spending spree, would be more likely to result in increased harassment of law-abiding taxpayers than in a meaningful reduction in the tax gap.
“And just in case anyone thinks I’m exaggerating about harassment, I would note that a provision in the House version of Democrats’ reckless tax-and-spending spree would have repealed a measure requiring written approval of a supervisor before an IRS agent can assess any penalties.
“The provision was intended to prevent overreaching IRS agents from threatening Americans with unjustified penalties.
“And it’s hard to imagine why Democrats would try to repeal this measure if they were not trying to pave the way for much more aggressive IRS pressure on American taxpayers.
“Mr. President, in her 2021 report to Congress, the national taxpayer advocate noted, and I quote, ‘There is no way to sugarcoat the year 2021 in tax administration: From the perspective of tens of millions of taxpayers, it was horrendous.’
“Taxpayers deserve better.
“They deserve an efficient and accountable IRS and timely and effective customer service.
“And Congress should focus on giving it to them.
“I hope we’ll be able to move away from Democrats’ intrusive and reckless Build Back Better IRS proposals and toward bipartisan efforts to reform the IRS and ensure that taxpayers can reliably depend on the agency.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”