White House pushes Biden agenda with surprising embrace of tax season
The fraught politics of tax season have been met by the White House with a perhaps surprising response: a welcoming embrace.
The Biden administration has moved this week to elevate the moment, making the case that President Joe Biden’s law that surged $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service has delivered tangible results at the same time Biden’s tax proposals sit at the center of a White House itching for a fight with House Republicans over long-term spending and deficits.
IRS funding has been at the center of Republican efforts to undo one of Biden’s cornerstone legislative achievements. They’ve alleged, without evidence, it would result in more menacing knocks on the door by the tax man, something internal GOP polling repeatedly showed was a politically salient message. But as Tax Day arrived, the administration was far from defensive.
Instead, from the White House to the Treasury Department, the administration pressed to elevate the issue, pointing to improved customer service such as shortened call times, upgraded service, and a cleared backlog of last year’s returns at the IRS due to the funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.
On Wednesday, Biden will speak at a union training center – home turf for the president – and will contrast “his and MAGA House Republicans’ different visions for the economy,” a White House official said Tuesday.
“The president will say that trickle-down economics never worked for his family growing up,” the official said. “And two days after the Speaker’s remarks to Wall Street, President Biden will be joined by hard-working Americans at a union training facility in Accokeek, Maryland.”
Biden will accuse “extreme MAGA House Republicans” of wanting to cut “veterans’ health care, child care, and opioids treatment,” and of trying to “take away food assistance and health care from millions of Americans and repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, sending manufacturing overseas,” in exchange for “tax giveaways that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.”
While Republicans have said they want to make cuts across the board, they haven’t laid out where those cuts will come from specifically.
“The President will outline his plan to cut the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over 10 years by asking the super-wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, and cutting wasteful spending on special interests like Big Pharma and Big Oil,” the official said.
The White House is banking on the plan being popular among Americans despite being dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.
In a memo sent to Congress obtained exclusively by CNN, the White House – typically wary of discussing poll numbers – is pointing to a series of surveys showing Americans “overwhelmingly support” Biden’s overall spending plan. The administration said the data shows “the public clearly backs a plan to cut deficits by asking the wealthy & big corporations to pay their fair share, while ensuring no one earning less than $400,000 will pay more taxes.”
The memo cites more than a dozen polls showing broad support for not only Biden’s plan to tax the wealthy, but also support for protecting Social Security and investments made through the Inflation Reduction Act.
Republicans have made the exaggerated claim that the money that the IRS receives through the Inflation Reduction Act would be used to target middle-class taxpayers and to hire 87,000 auditors, CNN previously reported. In their first vote after taking control of the House, Republicans voted to repeal the funding. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that repealing the funding was a priority, “because government should work for you, not against you.”
The House GOP bill has no future with a Democratic-controlled Senate and Biden in the White House. But Republicans are increasingly urging their leadership to include the repeal in their debt ceiling proposal as part of an effort to cut down Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act entirely.
“If it’s gonna pass, it’s gonna have to” include a repeal of the entire Inflation Reduction Act, Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said Tuesday of the House GOP’s debt ceiling plan.
But officials with the Department of Treasury insist the changes in the act aren’t about the optics or proving critics wrong; they’re about the taxpayers.
“This is not about the politics,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said during a call with reporters on Monday. “For as long as I’ve been here, which is more than a decade, part of what we’ve done at the Treasury Department is provide the American people with information about how they can do what the vast majority of them do, which is pay their taxes.”
“The difference this year than the previous years: the Congress has made a serious investment in improving customer service.”
Adeyemo said the agency is telling the American people that if they call the IRS, “the wait times are going to be down dramatically. If you want to see someone in person, there’s likely to be someone in your community where you can go and see in person. And then if you want to use our automated services, those are vastly improved.”
He also added that the money put the IRS in a position to “make sure those people who generally are wealthier, who are trying to avoid their taxes, we now have the resources to go after them to make sure that they also are paying their fair share going forward.”
“So fundamentally,” he said, “investing in the IRS is investing in helping us bring down our debts and deficits over time and also improving the customer service that the American people deserve.”
But that doesn’t mean that audits across the board have increased as Republicans warned they would. IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel said during the same call that the rate of audits has “steadily declined across the board” and is now “at a historic low.”
He said middle- and low-income taxpayers should see no change in how the IRS audits, “in terms of like the likelihood of getting an audit.”
The White House was more than happy to make the issue about the politics. At Tuesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused “MAGA congressional Republicans” of wanting “to repeal this progress, making customer services worse for hard-working taxpayers and making it easier for wealthy tax cheats and big corporations to get away with cheating on their taxes.”
“President Biden and congressional Democrats have a different agenda,” she said. “More help for taxpayers while ensuring the super-rich pay what they owe.”