March 2, 2011
The GOP, the IRS, and “the Agenda”

I ran across a story today that made no sense—until it made perfect sense.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a bill to cut $600 million from the IRS. Should it pass, the IRS will have to fire a number of employees and curtail its enforcement efforts. As it happens, reports suggest that every $1 or so in IRS expenditures for tax collection leads to about $10 in tax receipts. Reducing enforcement will, accordingly, likely reduce the revenue the government collects—in the midst of staggering budget deficits.

Moreover, paying taxes is one’s legal obligation. In general, Republicans like to wrap themselves in the flag of “law and order.” Cutting enforcement is an invitation to cheat—something that Republicans usually claim to oppose in the name of “family values.” Except, apparently, when it comes to taxes.

This doesn’t actually make sense—until you realize it does.

I think this is easily explained if one remembers a profound comment made by the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist. Norquist is famous—or perhaps infamous, depending on one’s point of view—for saying, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

And so you have it: the Agenda. Cut taxes, and government will run out of money. Cut enforcement of what taxes you have left, and government will run out of money even faster. And since everyone opposes taxes prima facie—and hates tax increases even more—when government starts running massive deficits in the post-tax cut era, the only practical political options are to borrow money to fund government’s operations (an increasingly difficult thing to do in the tea party era), or cut services. Ta da!

Yet the right’s proposed cuts are not across-the-board. The pain is not to be shared equally. So far, Republicans have exempted defense, Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the debt from the budget axe. However, those four programs constitute 59.5% of US spending. Hence, their proposed budget cuts come out of everything else: social welfare programs, pension systems, consumer protection programs like food and drug safety, and things like roads, schools, parks, and support for education.

Neither tax cuts nor cuts to the IRS will either solve the deficit crisis or make the nation more stable and more secure. THEY’RE NOT INTENDED TO. Instead, they’re intended only as tools to build an America in which government no longer provides a social welfare system, a pension system, or a consumer protection system.

Welcome to Tea Party America.

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