Several Republicans, including Jerry Moran, have dragged out that toothless whistle about closing the Internal Revenue Service, as though such an act would be the salvation of all free men (and, presumably, women) and solid confirmation that government must be run like a business.
But as any business manager knows, the good ones anyway, profitability does not lie in shutting down the department that generates revenue and collects the money. Put simply, it’s a dumb idea. The IRS manages the collection of revenue that keeps the country going, and, for that matter, keeps Kansas flush with federal aid.
It’s the cheapest politics to pander to the lower Pecksniffs in our citizenry ‒ people who loathe the IRS because they don’t like paying taxes, or are trying to avoid them, or who don’t want to get caught cheating on them. It’s like telling the shop-lifter or the pan handler that life should be easier without law enforcement.
Nearly every problem affecting the IRS today can be traced to a lack of funding, which leads to equipment deficits, a shortage of agents, an increase in employee turnover, a lack of experienced employees and managers and ‒ ultimately ‒ a decline in revenue collections coupled with increases in unpaid taxes. Congress has never learned that it is risky and dull-witted to bite the hand that feeds them.
Much of the current sniveling about the IRS has roots in a dust-up three years ago, when the agency took a special interest in the TEA party’s tax exempt status. This, unfortunately, rekindled a vehemence among people who never saw a government they couldn’t hate.
The Taxed Enough Already party, a loose-knit coalition of anti-government shufflers and anti-tax zealots, had sought 501(c)4 tax-exempt status for its various local organizations.
The IRS wanted to know how and why.
The classification 501(c)4 is for organizations engaged exclusively or primarily in social welfare activities – homeless shelters, food banks, homes for battered women, and so forth.
The TEA party is not about social welfare. It is about politics, and far more eligible for 527 classification, the status for political action clubs ‒ the kind that, for example, launched the swift boat ads against John Kerry, and trumpets the racist immigration laws of Kris Kobach.
But fact and law have never interested fanatics whose cause relies on, and is strengthened by, mistrust and loathing.
By law, political parties such as TEA should not be tax-exempt as agents for social welfare; they should have 527 status for what they are: a political organization. That, however, would require donors to disclose themselves. TEA partiers, like most paranoid klans, prefer to hide behind anonymity.
And Congress lets them hide behind loose law and lousy tax advice. Is it the IRS’s fault that these clubs don’t want us to know who’s paying their bills?
That’s the true issue: the donors. Rather than fix things, the Tea-partiers and their cheerleaders, such as Jerry Moran, Mitch McConnell and Michele Bachmann, go foaming off about injustice and abuse of power.
It would take a quick hearing, a few keystrokes and perhaps a roll call vote to fix this mess in, say, a month. But that can’t happen so long as Congressional politics lives by hostility and stridence.
Fixing a tax discrepancy, a relatively simple matter, would put a heated – if phony – issue away on a shelf, an otherwise admirable thing. But wait. Fixing things, members of Congress have learned, might gain a few votes, but it would cost them a lot of priceless attention.
The TEA party thrives on attention. And money. Better to keep both on a big burner – and the donors hidden away.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL