The Washington Post headline seemed off to me: Conservative Groups Oppose IRS Funds In Infrastructure Deal. Jeff Stein and his team reported that "Conservative political groups are mobilizing against a key element of a bipartisan infrastructure deal, and their opposition could make it harder for the U.S. government to collect unpaid taxes." Aren't conservative groups basically opposed to everything in the deal? As William Rivers Pitt pointed out earlier in the week, McConnell has pronounced bipartisanship dead and has defined the role of the GOP to just oppose everything and screw up the country so badly that it will give Republicans something to complain about during the election cycle?
Before McConnell kills the so-called "bipartisan" plan-- negotiated 100% by rot gut anti-working class conservatives from the two parties-- the media is babbling their nonsense about how "Congressional Democrats and Republicans have agreed to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service so that the agency can bring in more tax revenue, hoping the money can help pay down some of the infrastructure package’s expected price tag." Sure, sure.Nothing can possibly get done outside of the reconciliation process because there are not 10 Republican senators who will go against McConnell. This is a foot-dragging game one would imagine Biden, if not Schumer, would understand already.
"The early contours of the infrastructure blueprint," reported Stein et al, "have won the White House’s support, but the IRS provision in particular is drawing opposition from well-funded conservative groups, which are strongly opposed to expanding the reach of a tax-collection agency that they long have alleged is politically motivated. Among the conservative groups spearheading the opposition are the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Conservative Action Project, and the Leadership Institute. They are preparing a letter that warns Republicans should not negotiate with the White House unless they agree to 'no additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service.' The letter, obtained by the Washington Post ahead of its release, is expected to gain support from at least a dozen other conservative groups this week, with plans to send it soon to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Senate GOP leaders."
Is that supposed to be surprising. Billionaires and multimillionaires fund these groups to specifically prevent anything that could conceivably raise their taxes. That all this is about-- their rich donors' taxes. The Post reporters observed that "a successful effort could imperil bipartisan support for the $974 billion infrastructure package," without noting that's the entire purpose of the letter and the misleading op-ed in The Hill by right wing crackpots Stephen Moore and Steve Forbes.
There's supposedly agreement on both sides of the aisle that spending $40 billion-- the original number Biden asked for was $80 billion-- to get $140 billion from rich scofflaws is a good investment, pointing "to weaker IRS enforcement and estimates of the nation’s persistent 'tax gap,' or the difference between what taxes are owed to the government and what is actually paid." The IRS is so hated by Republicans, particularly rich ones and brainwashed ones-- are their others?-- that one of the negotiators, Rob Portman (R-OH), who is retiring and won't have to face angry Republicans again, was tepid and apologetic when he explained his support. "I am working with my colleagues in both parties to improve taxpayer services and the collection of taxes owed, while putting in place responsible reforms to prevent the IRS from overstepping its authority and protect taxpayer data," was how he put it.
It was GOP policy and no coincidence that "Over the past decade, persistent budget cuts have hurt the IRS’s ability to conduct audits, including those targeting wealthy and large corporations. Tax experts have expressed alarm that the weakening of the IRS has helped fuel the increase in U.S. income inequality, in part because the rich have more tools to dodge the increasingly weak tax collection agency."
Even the modest and inadequate proposals from the White House will be eventually be blocked by McConnell. "Senate Republicans-- including some of the moderates who have indicated interest in an agreement-- may oppose any deal," noted Stein, "if it includes not just more funding for the IRS but bolsters a crackdown on tax evasion, even if focused on corporations and the rich, according to multiple congressional aides and lobbyists in close contact with lawmakers."
Animating Republican opposition is more than a decade of ill will between the GOP and the IRS. Nearly a decade ago, a top IRS official acknowledged its auditors had scrutinized the finances of conservative leaning groups based on their names-- raising the specter of political targeting even though the agency did eye some liberal nonprofit groups as well.
More recently, conservatives say the IRS is to blame after a major story by ProPublica revealed some of the wealthiest Americans pay relatively little in taxes. Many Republicans suspect IRS officials were behind the disclosure, although ProPublica has said it does not know where the information came from and there is no evidence the IRS staff did so. Tax experts also speculate that a lack of funding also may have made the leak more likely, either by weakening the tax agency’s IT protections or by forcing it to offload sensitive data to third-party contractors.
“The people who were against it to begin with have even more fodder, which makes the supporters more nervous … They’re fine on the substance of giving the IRS more money, but that’s maybe only five to 10 [Republicans] in the Senate,” said Donald Schneider, who worked for Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think the coalition can hold for it-- especially knowing what else is in the balance-- but it’s in a precarious position now.”
The groups leading the opposition to the IRS budget increase include those that have received funds from major conservative donors, including the Mercer Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund that gives to conservative and libertarian causes. One signatory of the letter, Phil Kerpen of American Commitment, worked for five years at Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the influential Koch network.
And for as long as McConnell can count on Manchin and Sinema to hold the line on filibuster reform, he has no incentive to negotiate on this or anything else the Democrats would like to do (think voting right protections, a robust infrastructure bill, lowering the age for Medicare or the price of drugs, raising the minimum wage, anything to ameliorate the Climate Crisis, anti-trust legislation... any and every reform you have in mind.
It’s an understandable impulse in its way. It might even be politically smart for their specific constituents: Plenty of not-particularly-political Americans exhausted by Trump’s viciousness and lack of principle long for a return to some kind of shared vision for a country they once regarded as at least nominally functional or institutionally intact. The filibuster is after all a rule, and preserving rules feels right to a lot of people who found the norm-shredding lawlessness of the Trump administration truly alarming. For moderates clinging to the view that the truth-- or the correct course of action-- lies “somewhere in the middle” between equally dishonest sides, bipartisanship isn’t a bad code word. It gestures, however feebly, at a longing for normalcy and good faith and cooperation; it sounds reasonable, moderate, practical.
It is not. You can’t go “back to normal” after Trump revealed what Republicans would go along with. Pretending it didn’t happen-- or that it’s better now that Trump is gone-- might feel reasonable precisely because it isn’t. This is how a state bleeds out. The damage is not in the past. Republicans are not stopping. But neither, curiously, is the mentality that insists, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that Republicans will suddenly snap out of it and become responsible political partners. Respect for the opposition seems to be operating more like a core value than an empirical analysis. Michael Hobbes suggested on Twitter that the problem is that pretending Republicans can be reasoned with is key to a certain kind of Democrat’s sense of self; they “understand on an intellectual level that Republicans will never compromise and Democrats simply have to win elections-- but they don’t want to believe it. It changes how they see themselves. So they act like it’s not true.”
...What Manchin says behind closed doors matters more than what he says to the public, and what he’s said in both settings is that he wants to save the filibuster. He was very explicit in a frank chat with wealthy pro-filibuster donors that was leaked to the Intercept: He said his best shot at defending the filibuster from the “far left”-- which he wants to do-- was getting some Republicans to get on board for the Jan. 6 commission. None joined. And yet, despite some teasing here and there, he has not changed his stance.
And Sinema is far worse, mostly because, as much as we all detest Manchin, he's sane. Sinema isn't.