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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Your papers please

Just so we all know what’s happening May 3, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

As the days go by, more and more details will surely come out concerning the president's new spending package(s). Reporters are a pesky breed. Thank goodness and top J-schools.

For example, reporters for The Wall Street Journal found this nugget last week: One of the line items in one of the president's giant spending bills includes another $80 billion for the IRS to enforce tax laws. Eighty billion. (Doesn't government use "millions" any longer?)

Now, it is true that both parties like for the IRS to round up the scofflaws. First, it raises revenue for the government to spend. Second, it doesn't raise taxes. Third, few citizens will call their representatives in Congress to complain that the IRS won't let them cheat.

But let's be clear on what's happening. And, for the record, let's not accuse the loyal opposition (or editorialists) of condoning tax cheats just because another $80 billion for the IRS raises legitimate questions.

The Journal reports that the IRS is going to double its enforcement staff.

So far, so good.

And the administration projects its plan would rake in about $700 billion over a decade that mightn't been paid without the extra staff. Which, it should be noted, is still only a fraction of what experts estimate the government loses each year when certain folks don't pay all their taxes.

Good, good.

The IRS says it needs a multi-year commitment so it can train enforcement officers and auditors--to collect what the government is rightfully owed.

Good, good.

And the president's new plan for the IRS would require banks to tell the IRS how much money comes in and out of individual and business bank accounts, and something like $30 billion would be used to upgrade the IRS' technology department so it can analyze the bank information of millions of Americans.

Good . . . God.

If your eyes didn't widen just a bit on hearing that, or if your hair didn't stand on end, perhaps we didn't explain it properly. So let's take The Journal's words:

"Under the plan, banks and other payment providers would be required to tell the IRS how much money came into and out of individuals' and businesses' accounts each year, going far beyond the existing reporting of interest income . . . .

"[T]he change to the information-reporting rules would give the IRS much more information about business income as it decides whom to audit. It would also create an enormous flow of information that the IRS would have to learn how to manage and use.

"About $30 billion of the funding boost would pay for technology upgrades and other changes, some of which makes sure the IRS could obtain and analyze the bank information ... ."

Doubtless there are some readers who'll say good, good. That is, if they have to pay their tax bills each year, so should the guy parking most of his money in the Caymans.

But there are still questions. How much oversight will be given to the IRS as it collects all this new information? And who will be responsible for that oversight? Congress? Who'll audit the auditors? How prevent abuse? If you don't think the IRS can be weaponized, you haven't studied American history. FDR used it to investigate Huey Long (who was making noise about a primary bid before an assassin struck him down in Baton Rouge). And nearly every modern president has been accused of misusing the agency. Even during the Obama-Biden administration, remember, the IRS had to admit to targeting conservative groups on their applications for tax-exempt status.

Cracking down on tax cheats is going to take some new software, of course. But before the Congress passes a bit of legislation that allows the IRS to collect and analyze a trove of bank transactions, We the People should know more about it.

Certainly the administration proposing these changes should do a better job of explaining.

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