Treasury Secretary Jack Lew let loose on Friday when he called out Congress for underfunding the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS.
“I think that over the last few years, you’ve seen a very distressing trend that Congress is cutting the funding of the IRS year after year, which limits our ability to both enforce our tax laws, but also to provide services to taxpayers,” Lew said. “The first I think is just foolish.”
The IRS is a favorite political punching bag for antigovernment Republicans, who try to starve the agency responsible for collecting the revenue needed to fund critical Federal services.
“I think it’s just unforgivable that we don’t have enough people answering the phones,” Lew went on to say. “It’s not a mystery what you need to answer the phone. You need people to answer to the phone.”
Watch the Treasury secretary call out Congress below:
The secretary’s critique echoed a January editorial from the Washington Post that slammed Republican lawmakers for their “deeply irrational” budget cuts to the IRS:
GOP lawmakers repeatedly have cut the agency’s budget over the past several years, including a 3 percent reduction this year . But no matter how therapeutic it may feel to hack away at the IRS, it is deeply irrational.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Thursday that the budget punishment has been so harsh that he may have to shut down the agency sometime this summer.
Mr. Koskinen’s warning comes on the heels of an ominous report from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson , who represents everyday Americans’ concerns at the IRS. In her annual report to Congress, Ms. Olson described an impending customer service disaster as the agency struggles to do an ever more complex job with less and less money. About half of the 100 million or so people who will try to call the IRS this year probably won’t get through. The agency reckons that even those who do will have to wait 30 minutes or more. Those who tough it out on hold won’t be able to ask anything but basic questions because the agency has limited the topics its taxpayer support staff may answer.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.