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Thune: Democrats’ Election Reform Bill Would Weaponize the IRS

“And H.R. 1, with its multitude of unwise and unconstitutional provisions even beyond the alarming provisions I’ve discussed today, must be stopped. Otherwise the Biden legacy may be the weaponization of the IRS.”

May 25, 2021

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the Democrats’ supposed election integrity bill and the multitude of unwise and unconstitutional provisions in the legislation, specifically the weaponization of the IRS. If enacted, the Democrats’ partisan bill would repeal a Treasury Department rule that was designed to help prevent the kind of abuse that occurred during the Obama administration. A separate Biden proposal would add $80 billion to the tax-collecting agency’s budget and more than double the current number of IRS employees over the next decade.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, H.R. 1 – Democrats’ supposed election integrity bill – is filled with bad ideas.

“Making the Federal Election Commission into a partisan body.

“Effectively banning voter ID and gutting other safeguards against voter fraud.

“Providing for taxpayer funding of political campaigns.

“And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to the bill’s truly terrible provisions on the IRS. 

“Mr. President, everyone remembers the IRS scandal during the Obama administration.

“Around 2013, it emerged that the Obama IRS had been unfairly singling out conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status, slow-walking their applications and subjecting them to burdensome extra scrutiny.

“This had been going on for more than two years.

“And top IRS officials compounded the agency’s misdeeds by providing misleading information to Congress.

“Well, Mr. President, Americans should brace themselves.

“Because if H.R. 1 is ever enacted, it would allow for the same kind of targeting that went on under the Obama administration – if not worse.

“To start with, H.R. 1 repeals a Treasury Department rule finalized last year that was designed to help prevent the kind of abuse that went on under the Obama IRS.

“Under the rule, many tax-exempt organizations are no longer required to turn over to the IRS the names and addresses of individuals who have made substantial donations.

“This is not information the IRS needs to know for tax purposes, and there is no reason the agency should have information beyond what it needs to do its job.

“And I am proud to be a cosponsor of Leader McConnell and Senator Braun’s bill, which would permanently codify the Treasury rule and its protections against unnecessary disclosure.

“Providing the IRS with additional, extraneous information opens up opportunities for the kind of abuses we saw during the Obama administration.

“But stopping IRS abuse doesn’t seem to be a big priority for the Democrat Party. 

“Indeed, there’s reason to believe at least some Democrats would like the IRS to take a more aggressive role in Americans’ lives.

“And so H.R. 1 explicitly repeals the Treasury Department rule.

“But that’s not all.

“As if Democrats were determined to prove that they intend to weaponize the IRS, H.R. 1 (and S. 1, the Senate version of the House bill) would allow the IRS to consider organizations’ views when deciding whether or not to grant them tax-exempt status.

“Let me repeat that.

“H.R. 1 and S. 1 would allow the IRS to consider an organization’s views when deciding whether or not to grant that organization tax-exempt status.

“Mr. President, it is difficult to think of a more outrageous and dangerous provision.

“This rule would allow any administration of either party to use the IRS to censor and suppress groups whose ideas the party in power opposes.

“The administration in power doesn’t like the positions your organization champions? 

“Say goodbye to your hopes for tax-exempt status.

“The Obama IRS scandals could look tame compared to the kind of political weaponization of the IRS that could occur under H.R. 1.

“And this provision could have real political implications.

“Selectively granting tax-exempt status could be a means of weakening political opposition.

“A group that can’t get tax-exempt status may be a group that never gets off the ground for financial reasons – and thus a group that never becomes a significant voice in opposition to the policies of the reigning party.

“Think this is a worst-case scenario?

“Well, let’s remember that something like this already happened under the Obama administration.

“The IRS was weaponized once, and it can be weaponized again – especially if Democrats succeed in their efforts to eliminate safeguards against such abuse.

“And of course if the president has his way, the IRS may soon be swimming in money that would substantially increase its reach.

“President Biden wants to provide the IRS with an additional $80 billion over 10 years.

“That would give the IRS a larger budget than the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other significant government agencies.

“It would allow the IRS to hire nearly 87,000 new employees. 


“All told, the Biden plan would double the number of IRS employees over the next decade.

“Now, the reason President Biden gives for this massive increase in IRS funding is increased enforcement efforts in order to close the tax gap – the gap between taxes owed and what Americans actually pay.

“But there’s little reason to believe that the IRS will come anywhere close to recovering the amount of money the president claims it can recover, even with a massive infusion of cash.

“And there’s reason to be seriously concerned about what that massive infusion of cash, plus new reporting requirements on Americans’ bank and Venmo accounts, could mean for IRS intrusion into Americans’ lives.

“President Biden of course also claims that any increased enforcement will be targeted against wealthy Americans.

“In what is becoming typical Democrat class-warfare rhetoric, the president states that ordinary Americans pay their taxes while some wealthy Americans dodge them. 

“Of course, according to the IRS, our nation has a relatively high and stable voluntary tax compliance rate.

“And tax compliance levels remain largely unchanged since at least the 1980s.   

“And in fact failure to pay tax owed occurs among all kinds of taxpayers in every place along the income spectrum.

“But the White House isn’t letting those facts interfere with its class-warfare rhetoric.

“What’s more, what guarantee will we have, other than Democrats’ say-so at this point, that this infusion of money will be restricted to combating tax evasion?

“As far as I can tell, there’s nothing to prevent the new agents the IRS will hire from being retasked at some point to other priorities – like investigating the views of conservative organizations before deciding whether or not to grant them tax-exempt status.

“Mr. President, closing the tax gap is a serious goal that deserves serious discussion.

“And it’s possible that a targeted IRS funding increase for that purpose would be worth considering.

“But $80 billion is a ridiculous number – in the words of one of President Obama’s IRS chiefs, ‘I’m not sure you’d be able to efficiently use that much money.’

“And any plus-up in funding for the IRS should be accompanied by serious reforms – as well as more protections, not fewer protections, against IRS politicization.

“While the Obama IRS scandal represents one of the more egregious abuses of the agency’s power, the IRS is well-known for serial mismanagement – like Americans’ inability to actually get through to the IRS with their questions.

“The Washington Post reported in April that if you were calling the IRS this tax season, you had a one-in-50 chance – yes, I said one-in-50 – of actually getting to speak to a human being.

“In May, the treasury inspector general for tax administration released a report on the 2021 filing season which noted that the IRS struggled to get new hires squared away on the job partially because it’s – and here I’m going to quote from the report – “difficult to find working copiers … to be able to prepare training packages for the new hires.”

“That’s right.

“And I wish those were the only agency printer or copier problems.

“But they’re not.

“Let me quote from the inspector general’s report again: ‘Audit teams continue to perform on-site walkthroughs at the Ogden, Utah, and Kansas City, Missouri, Tax Processing Centers to meet with staff to discuss challenges they are facing as it relates to addressing the ongoing backlogs of inventory.  A major concern that surfaced during these walkthroughs was the lack of working printers and copiers.  IRS management estimated that, as of March 30, 2021, 69 (42 percent) of 164 devices used by the Submission Processing functions are unusable and others are broken but still functioning.  IRS employees stated that the only reason they could not use many of these devices is because they are out of ink or because the waste cartridge container is full.’

“I wish this were a joke.

“But that’s straight out of the inspector general’s report.

“Mr. President, hearing that you might think that we don’t need to worry about the weaponization of the IRS because the agency isn’t capable of work that sophisticated.

“But as we know, that isn’t true.

“The IRS was successfully weaponized for political purposes during the Obama administration, and the same thing could happen again – especially if Democrats succeed in removing protections against IRS abuse.

“Mr. President, as our nation’s revenue-collecting agency, the IRS is an agency with immense power.

“And it’s not a voluntary government program.

“Americans don’t get to choose whether or not they interact with the IRS.

“For that reason, it is vital that there be as many safeguards in place as possible to prevent the IRS from abusing its power or being used for political purposes.

“We’ve seen plenty of evidence that the IRS often doesn’t use the money or resources it currently has in a responsible way.

“Any increase in money for the IRS – which should certainly not be anywhere close to $80 billion – should be matched with significant reforms and increased accountability.

“And H.R. 1, with its multitude of unwise and unconstitutional provisions even beyond the alarming provisions I’ve discussed today, must be stopped.

“Otherwise the Biden legacy may be the weaponization of the IRS.

“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”