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The Elbert Files: The IRS and anarchy


Ronald Reagan famously said in 1981: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

It’s a great quote, and on rare occasions it is true.

But most of the time today, we can’t agree on the problem. So how can we hope to solve it?

The vast majority of government workers I’ve rubbed shoulders with during a half century of covering politics and business are conscientious people who want to do the right thing.

Most of the time they succeed, although increasingly many find it difficult to figure out what the right thing is.

Nonetheless, they push forward. And more often than not, they make the right choice.

How else can you explain the tremendous success this nation has had during the past century?

I have a high regard for public employees, and not just because my parents worked for state government.

Nearly all the teachers I know have a genuine desire to educate young people, and I especially admire their ability to navigate the minefields we  place in front of them these days.  

I also believe that air traffic controllers and TSA agents are diligent, sometimes to a fault, about keeping air travel safe and on time as much as is humanly possible.

Police and firefighters risk their lives daily to protect us and our property.

Conservation agents have the best interest of our natural resources at heart, even when many of us find it easy to ignore ever-growing problems.

Civil engineers and architects are always stretching the envelope to design and build safer, smoother roads and better public buildings.

Are they all perfect? Of course not. They make mistakes, and occasionally their mistakes mount up to what reasonable people call a problem.

But when that happens, we have a self-correcting mechanism called elections that pull us back from wrong-minded decisions and away from disingenuous leaders.

I mention all of this because as we draw closer to this year’s elections, there seems to be a larger than usual amount of disinformation being circulated by once-credible sources.

The worst example I’ve seen in recent days is the big lie that is being told about the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Everyone, including me, hates paying taxes, which means tax collectors are always an easy target. But what has happened lately is beyond responsible and, if not corrected, it will ruin us as a nation.

I’m talking about the way some politicians are distorting legitimate efforts to improve our tax collection system.

The New York Times recently reported: “A decades-long Republican antipathy toward the Internal Revenue Service has reached a new level of enmity with the passage of a Democratic-backed bill that gives the agency $80 billion to beef up its ability to go after tax cheats.”

“The legislation … will allow the beleaguered agency to hire more than 80,000 employees, upgrade outdated technology systems and improve its ability to respond to taxpayers,” the article said.

There is little doubt the IRS is in serious need of an overhaul. It has been underfunded for years, resulting in a workforce decimated by retirements operating outdated equipment.

Any accountant will tell you that the IRS is so understaffed and ill-prepared that agents can no longer answer legitimate questions, even if you are lucky enough to get an IRS representative on the phone.

Republicans, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, warn that with new funding the IRS will go after “middle-class and small-business people.”

But the truth is the opposite. As things stand now, major tax offenders go unchecked and the government loses money because the IRS does not have the resources to hold them accountable.

With proper resources the agency will be able to go after major violators, instead of picking the low-hanging fruit, which is now composed of the “middle-class and small-business people ” Grassley wants to protect.

The result, if the IRS does not get the resources it so desperately needs, will be the type of governmental anarchy Ronald Reagan warned about in his first inaugural address.


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