This week, President Biden signed a bill that Congress passed, authorizing the IRS to hire 87,000 new employees. I was hoping that Joe Manchin would hold the line in the Senate. While he was instrumental in killing Build Back Better (or, more accurately, Build Back Broke), he is still a Democrat. Coming up on midterms, he handed a win to the Democrats but a loss to the American people.
In 2021, the IRS had 78,661 full-time employees. Adding an additional 87,000 will bring the total amount of IRS employees to over 165,000. As far as I know, the largest number of employees that had ever worked for the IRS at one time was about 94,000 in 2010. Thus, while the IRS could have made a colorable claim that they needed to get back to the 94,000-employee mark to keep doing their jobs, increasing the number to 165,000 more than doubled the current size of the IRS. So instead of gaining a few pounds, the IRS just agreed to star in the 2022 remake of "Super Size Me."
To put this in perspective, the Marine Corps has 186,000 active-duty Marines. So in plain English, the IRS will have only about 10% fewer full-time employees than the Marine Corps has full-time Marines. This makes the IRS almost as effective at squeezing money out of the people at home as the Marines are at squeezing the life out of the terrorists abroad.
While we must concede that some power to tax (and power to enforce that taxation) is necessary for a government to operate, every reasonable American should be alarmed at the unprecedented growth of the IRS through this new law. We do not dispute that those who actually cheat on their taxes should be held accountable. What we worry about is whether having an IRS that’s 75% larger than it’s ever been and devotes itself to squeezing money out of the people could have a high potential for abuse.
Anyone who understands human nature or has been keeping up with the news over the last 12 years should conclude that the answer is yes. In 2010, the IRS targeted the Wetumpka Tea Party on ideological grounds. That was during the Obama years, and the Tea Party movement was a force to be reckoned with for the Obama administration. So what did it do? It abused its taxation power to target those who could push back against the administration. Given that human beings are sinful, it should not come as a surprise that this could happen.
The current administration shocked the nation in 2021 when the IRS denied a Christian charity’s tax-exempt status because the Bible was “typically affiliated with the Republican Party.” While it was nice to see the Biden administration concede that the Bible lines up more with the right than the left, the denial of the charity’s tax-exempt status was absolutely shocking. While the higher-ups at the IRS eventually reversed this decision, it never should have happened in the first place.
If we’re about to see the IRS get worse about abusing its power, do we have any defenses before we get the chance to vote for a Congress and a president that would repeal this law?
Yes: The First Amendment.
It is Free Speech 101 that the government may not use the power of the sword to suppress ideas that it does not like, even if it does so under the guise of something neutral (like taxes). There’s a reason why Becky Gerritson and the Wetumpka Tea Party eventually won the battle with the IRS: the First Amendment was firmly in their corner.
For religious organizations, religious liberty is on a winning streak at the United States Supreme Court. The government is not permitted to target religious organizations or treat them less favorably than secular organizations. Right now, all it takes is a little bit of evidence to show that the government is targeting religion, and in the event of a lawsuit, the government will lose.
Now with that said, even though the First Amendment would ultimately vindicate those wrongfully targeted on political or religious grounds, that doesn’t mean the way will be easy. The IRS has tremendous resources at its disposal. Even if the First Amendment vindicates the IRS’s victims in the end, it will be a long and painful road to get there. But the good news is that the First Amendment provides a way to get there in the end.
Chief Justice John Marshall famously wrote in 1819, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” We should be concerned, but we should not despair. God is still on his throne, the First Amendment is still in the Constitution, and civil-rights firms like ACLL still stand ready to fight back.
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