Reconciliation bill includes nearly $80 billion for IRS including enforcement, audits: What that means for taxpayers

Charles P. Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, testifies during the Senate Finance Committee hearing titled The IRS Fiscal Year 2022 Budget, in Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2021.
Tom Williams | Pool | Reuters

Senate Democrats on Sunday passed their climate, health and tax package, including nearly $80 billion in funding for the IRS.

Part of President Joe Biden‘s agenda, the Inflation Reduction Act allocates $79.6 billion to the agency over the next 10 years. More than half of the money is meant for enforcement, with the IRS aiming to collect more from corporate and high-net-worth tax dodgers.

The remainder of the funding is earmarked for operations, taxpayer services, technology, development of a direct free e-file system and more. Collectively, those improvements are projected to bring in $203.7 billion in revenue from 2022 to 2031, according to recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

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IRS audits have plunged over the past decade, with the biggest declines among the wealthy, according to a May 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office.

The audit rate for Americans making $5 million or more dropped to about 2% in 2019, compared to 16% in 2010, the report found. The agency said it is working to improve these numbers.

However, if the Inflation Reduction Act is approved by the House and signed into law, it will take time to phase in the added IRS funding, explained Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation. The Congressional Budget Office only estimates about $3 billion of the $203.7 billion in revenue for 2023.

“We didn’t get to this state with the agency overnight, and it will take longer than overnight to go in the right direction,” he said.

IRS: We won’t boost ‘audit scrutiny’ on the middle class

While advocates applaud the enhanced IRS budget, opponents argue the beefed-up enforcement may affect more than wealthy Americans, violating Biden’s $400,000 pledge.  

“My colleagues claim this massive funding boost will allow the IRS to go after millionaires, billionaires and so-called rich ‘tax cheats,’ but the reality is a significant portion raised from their IRS funding bloat would come from taxpayers with income below $400,000,” Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee said in a statement.  

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said the $80 billion in funding would not increase audits of households making less than $400,000 per year.

“The resources in the reconciliation package will get us back to historical norms in areas of challenge for the agency — large corporate and global high-net-worth taxpayers,” he wrote in a letter to the Senate.

“These resources are absolutely not about increasing audit scrutiny on small businesses or middle-income Americans,” he added.

More than two-thirds of registered voters support boosting the IRS budget to strengthen tax enforcement on high-income taxpayers, according to a 2021 poll from the University of Maryland.   

Sophie Tremblay

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