The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Nina Olson, also known as the IRS ombudsman, issued a report today warning lawmakers that the agency does not have enough resources or manpower to enforce all of the provisions in the new health care law:
Spending for IRS taxpayer service programs has been declining in recent years. At the same time, more taxpayers have been contacting the IRS for assistance as the IRS has been tasked with administering an increasing number of social benefit programs,….The report says that as a result of the imbalance between taxpayer demand and IRS resources, the IRS has fallen short of providing adequate taxpayer service in important areas. [...]
Second, with respect to the IRS’s ability to deliver social programs, the report expresses concern that the IRS currently is neither structured nor funded to do the job effectively….Congress must provide sufficient funding and the IRS itself must recognize that the skills and training required to administer social benefit programs are very different from the skills and training that employees of an enforcement agency typically possess. ”
The report calls on Congress to adequately fund the agency, but it also undermines the GOP’s fearmongering about the IRS. Immediately after health care reform passed, Fox News and Republican lawmakers started pushing a talking point claiming that the IRS will need to hire more than 16,500 new agents to enforce the insurance mandate in the law and that the agency will impose harsh punishments on those who don’t purchase insurance. The claim originated from a report prepared by the Republican staff of the House Ways and Means Committee and was parroted by prominent Republican lawmakers. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) calling it a “dangerous expansion of the IRS’s power and reach into the lives of virtually every American.” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) warned Fox News host Sean Hannity that “the IRS will be tasked with breathing down the neck of 300 million Americans every month to determine whether we have purchased governmentally acceptable levels of health insurance.”
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman dismissed the GOP claims back in March, and now some Republican lawmakers are also backing away. In yesterday’s report card on the health care law’s first 100 days, for instance, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) argued that the IRS “can’t enforce the law requiring people to buy insurance because the new law deprives it of the powers it needs to do so.” The ombudsman’s report contradicts this claim as well. “I have no doubt the IRS is capable of administering social programs, including health care,” she said.