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OPINION | TOM COTTON: Risky power grab

Weaponizing IRS bodes ill for all by TOM COTTON SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 14, 2021 at 3:04 a.m.

By now, you may be aware that President Biden and congressional Democrats are trying to force through a $4 trillion spending package that would hurt Arkansas and radically transform the United States. What you may not know is that this spending binge might also empower the IRS to snoop on your bank account.

The Democrats want to require all banks to inform the IRS about any accounts worth more than $600 or whose transactions total more than $600. Yes, $600. That means Arkansas banks would be required to report to the IRS if you so much as purchase a new refrigerator or tractor.

This surveillance scheme is a dangerous power grab on behalf of one of the least accountable agencies of the federal government.

The IRS and Treasury Department claim that this reporting requirement will allow them to go after wealthy tax cheats. However, the low reporting threshold means their financial dragnet would encompass most bank accounts in the country, including Grandma's checking account where she cashes her Social Security.

Banks already have to report financial transactions worth more than $10,000 to the federal government as part of the Bank Secrecy Act. This reasonable requirement is intended to catch drug dealers, terrorists, and other criminals who are trying to launder their ill-gotten gains into the banking system.

Most Americans have never triggered this requirement, except maybe when they buy a car or make a down payment on a house.

The Democrats' new reporting requirement is so low that many Arkansans will trigger it just by paying rent, making a mortgage payment, or buying feed for the family farm.

This requirement would hand the government a treasure trove of information about our personal finances. Joe Biden's Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, swears that the IRS will not be able to see what we're buying and selling. However, an information dragnet of this magnitude could almost certainly be used to connect the dots.

There's no reason to believe the IRS would keep this information safe or use it responsibly, given its track record of leaking to the press and persecuting conservatives. Just this year, journalists obtained the confidential IRS records of thousands of Americans. During the Obama era, the IRS infamously targeted Tea Party groups, discriminating against them when they applied for charitable status.

The Democrats' proposal would entrust the IRS with far more information about far more Americans.

This rule would also saddle banks with a significant regulatory burden. Bankers would be on the hook to report all this information to the federal government, wasting countless man hours. This paperwork burden would weigh heavily on small banks and credit unions, which are the backbone of Arkansas' banking system. Small banks don't have armies of accountants or high-tech electronic systems at their disposal, so they would be at a disadvantage compared to their larger competitors.

Like so much stifling government regulation, the Democrats' proposal could hasten the consolidation of the banking industry, enriching big banks while shuttering local banks on Main Street.

Every Arkansan ought to be alarmed by the Democrats' banking surveillance scheme. I'm working in the Senate to stop this overreach by opposing the Democrats' $4 trillion spending binge. I'm also sponsoring a bill with my colleague Sen. Mike Crapo that would stop the Democrats' efforts to supercharge the IRS with thousands of additional agents.

Tax Day is one of the bleakest days of the year for most Americans, as we do battle with an over-complicated tax code and an incompetent, overreaching IRS. If President Biden and the Democrats get their way, we'll have to deal with the IRS more often and its agents will have more power to turn out our pockets.

Tom Cotton is the junior U.S. senator for the state of Arkansas.

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