D.C. Dispatch: Ernst calls for audit of IRS; veteran-assistance legislation passes

By: - September 16, 2022 5:16 pm

The Internal Revenue Service headquarters building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As Congress reconvenes, Iowa Republicans are supporting measures they say will keep the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act in check.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst announced this week that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, agreed to her request to audit Internal Revenue Service employees. Hundreds of IRS employees, including tax collectors and criminal investigators, have failed to pay their own taxes, Ernst said, including 300 employees who are “repeat offenders.”

“We have a real problem if the IRS staff who enforce the tax law aren’t paying their own taxes and can’t even understand how to properly fill out their own tax forms,” Ernst said on the Senate floor Thursday.

The audit request comes as the IRS prepares for an expansion through the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping $740 billion spending bill signed into law in August. The legislation, which also includes green-energy incentives and limits on pharmaceutical costs, increases the IRS budget by nearly $80 billion over a decade. The largest portion of that funding, more than $45 billion, will go toward expanding enforcement – hiring more IRS agents, providing legal support and improving technology to enforce financial laws.

Ernst called for President Joe Biden to reconsider hiring 87,000 IRS agents, and instead address the “double standards” of the service. She cited TIGTA reports from 2017 and 2019 which found the IRS rehired previously terminated employees and did “little” to discipline others who failed to file federal tax returns. If even IRS agents can’t figure out how to properly file their taxes, she said, simplifying the tax code should take priority over enforcement.

“Washington’s misplaced priorities are creating problems for the rest of America,” Ernst said. “No one in Iowa that I talk to is begging for more IRS auditors.”

Iowa’s other Republican congressional leaders have also pushed back against the Inflation Reduction Act. U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson said the best way to combat inflation, which rose again in August according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, is for the government cut costs.

“Everything has become more expensive since President Biden took office and rammed through trillions in wasteful spending,” Hinson said in a statement. “Despite high prices hurting family budgets and forcing people to dip into their savings to stay afloat, President Biden and Speaker Pelosi can’t seem to stop spending.”

Iowa representatives support veteran-care bills

Iowa U.S. representative from both parties praised legislation passed through the U.S. House earlier this week to improve Veteran Affairs benefits. The five bills include measures updating the VA’s home loan appraisal process, increasing compensation rates for some benefits to reflect inflation, and extending the timeframe for G.I. bill educational disbursements.

U.S. Reps. Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks both voted for all five pieces of legislation.

“As a grateful nation, we must always ensure that our veterans and their families receive the highest quality healthcare, education, and benefits that they have rightfully earned,” Feenstra said in a statement on the legislation.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa’s only elected Democrat in Washington, backed one of the pieces of legislation that passed: the Faster Payments to Veterans’ Survivors Act. In 2020, the VA estimated nearly 15,000 people whose family members died in service are owed more than $155 million in undisbursed life insurance benefits. The act aims to modernize the VA’s process of finding and paying survivors of deceased veterans while shortening the timeframe for the department to contact and pay beneficiaries.

Axne said that getting veterans’ family members the money they are owed is “the least we can do” in honoring their military service.

“Our nation’s veterans dedicated their lives in service to our country, and the last thing they should worry about is whether their families will be financially secure when they pass,” Axne said in a statement.

When the legislation passed, Miller-Meeks drew attention to a resolution she co-sponsored earlier this year designating the week of Sept. 18 “Gold Star Families Remembrance Week.” Gold Star families are immediate family members of a military service member who died in conflict. These actions both honor and help members of the military and their families, she said.

“As a veteran, one of my top priorities in Congress has been to improve support for our men and women in uniform both during and after their service,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement. “Our servicemembers risk their lives to defend our freedoms, and we should do everything in our power to ease their transition to civilian life.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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