THE BLOG
07/21/2014 07:59 am ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

GOP: Tax Evasion as a Back Door Strategy

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

My CBPP colleague Chuck Marr flags something important from a recent press release by Rep. Dave Camp, the Republican Chair of the tax writing committee in the House.

In regard to their bill to patch the Highway Trust Fund through next May, Rep. Camp writes:

I certainly do not support permanent tax increases to pay for just 10 months of highway programs. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that the House would, as the Senate proposes to do, grant the IRS additional authority to audit and investigate taxpayers simply so Washington can spend more money.

In just a few words, the Congressman manages to make some truly scary assertions.

First, while it's true that we don't need a permanent tax increase to support temporary spending, why would Congress fund critical national infrastructure with patched, temporary, gimmicky spending bills like this one? In fact, we precisely need a permanent tax increase, specifically in the federal gas tax -- stuck at 18.4 cents/gallon since 1994! -- to avoid these temporary fiscal patches, which by definition just create a new fiscal cliff a few miles down the pothole-infested road, in this case in May 2015.

This is fiscal policy malpractice, rhetorically disguised as some kind of fiscal rectitude: "How dare you ask us to raise the resources needed to fund critical infrastructure in perpetuity, when we can fake a temporary patch?" It's Alice-in-Wonderland budgeting, where fiscal responsibility is cast as irresponsible.

But Camp's second sentence is far worse, for here we have one of the nation's most important tax legislators asserting that is "inconceivable" that the House majority would fund and facilitate the IRS's ability to enforce tax law and collect taxes owed.

Marr notes that the policies to which Camp is objecting ensure "...adequate disclosure of mortgage transactions and [clarify] what constitutes a "substantial omission of income" on a tax return. They are tax compliance provisions, meant to enable the IRS to collect the revenues that taxpayers owe."

Camp's position must be considered in tandem with House Republican's recent attack on the IRS budget, including their vote last week to cut the agency's tax enforcement budget by one fourth.

Let's not put too fine a point on this. Though the hard right has gridlocked the federal government, they haven't been able to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for the wealthy, or kill social insurance. Reducing the IRS's ability to collect taxes owed thus becomes a backdoor route to realizing these goals.

I expect some readers' may consider the implicit support of tax evasion to be "inconceivable" as a political strategy. I'm afraid those readers need to wake up a smell the stench of what passes for governance these days.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.

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