Democrats to scale back proposal for banks to report account balances to IRS
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Tuesday, bowing to an aggressive banking industry lobbying campaign and Republicans’ pullback, slashed a Biden administration plan for the Internal Revenue Service to try to crack down on tax fraud.
The new proposal, which would help pay off the sweeping social policy and climate change bill that includes it, reduces the scope of information banks would have to provide to the IRS about accounts receivable. Under the revised plan, which is backed by the Biden administration, banks would be required to provide account data only with total annual deposits or withdrawals worth more than $ 10,000, rather than the threshold. of $ 600 initially proposed. The reporting requirement would not apply to salary deposits for employees or beneficiaries of federal programs such as Social Security.
The plan was scaled back after a constant lobbying campaign by the banks and a deluge of criticism from Republicans, who argued that the administration’s desire to strengthen the IRS to narrow the “tax gap” by 7 Trillion dollars amounted to invasion of privacy and overbreadth of government.
Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the finance committee, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, accused critics of lying to protect wealthy tax evaders. But their decision to withdraw the original proposal showed how legislation containing measures Democrats believed just weeks ago would be politically unassailable – from cracking down on wealthy tax crooks to allowing the government to negotiate higher drug prices. low – could succumb to the challenges of well-funded. opponents. Having no votes to spare in an equally divided Senate, opponents only need to change one vote to condemn a provision of the bill on social policy.
Critics of the proposal have erroneously suggested that the IRS would track information about individual transactions. The administration said the IRS would not monitor specific customer transactions, but would instead use account information to detect discrepancies between it and what individuals reported on their tax returns.
“Banks and their high net worth clients lie bluntly, saying they would see individual transactions, and Republicans are backing them,” Ms. Warren said.
The Biden administration insists that audit rates for those earning less than $ 400,000 would not increase and that the program was focused on collecting unpaid taxes from the rich.
But Republicans, who have expressed distrust of the IRS for years, continued to criticize the proposal as an invasion of privacy. It is familiar ground. In the 1990s, Republicans orchestrated well-attended hearings into IRS abuses that described the agency as out of control. In 2013, Republicans accused the IRS of targeting conservative groups, although the political targeting extended beyond party lines.
“Whether it’s $ 600 or $ 10,000, under this proposal, the intimate financial details of everyone in this room – at a minimum, every American who has a job – will be turned over to the IRS on a daily basis,” Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, told reporters despite the proposed exemption from payroll deposits. “What could possibly go wrong?”
North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer darkly warned, “Marx is on the doorstep.
Mr Wyden called the Republican accusations a categorical “lie” promulgated by lawmakers at the behest of “donors and allies” who “want nothing more than a crippled IRS unable to continue their cheating.” Under the revised plan, instead of daily transaction reports, banks would send “two numbers once a year,” Wyden said, “the total amount entering an account and the total amount leaving.”
But the campaign has taken its toll. The Treasury Department said the Biden administration would support the narrower proposal because the IRS already had information on American workers and retirees. While this would give the agency visibility over much less bank accounts, the Treasury said in an information sheet Tuesday that “only those who accumulate other forms of income in an opaque way are part of the reporting regime”.
“Today’s new proposal reflects the administration’s strong belief that we should target those at the top of the income scale who are not paying the taxes they owe, while protecting workers. Americans by setting the bank account threshold at $ 10,000 and granting an exemption for employees such as teachers and firefighters. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.
“The main reason Republicans have clung to this issue as the one they lie about every day is because they know their tax agenda is a political loser,” Wyden said. “The American people overwhelmingly want to ensure that mega-corporations and billionaires pay their fair share, so Republicans have largely given up on their tired runoff arguments.”
Banks already submit tax forms to the IRS regarding the interest that accounts receivable earns. But the new proposal would require them to share information about account balances so the IRS can see if there are significant discrepancies between the income people and businesses report and what they have in the bank. The IRS could investigate the loopholes to see if these taxpayers were evading their obligations.
The Treasury Department estimated that its initial proposal to require banks to report account balances, along with plans to bolster law enforcement staff at the IRS, could raise $ 700 billion. dollars over a decade.
In a letter to House Democrats last month, Ms Yellen urged lawmakers not to water down the disclosure proposal. Originally, this part of the plan was to raise $ 460 billion over a decade. The Treasury Department has estimated that the narrower plan being considered by Congress could raise between $ 200 billion and $ 250 billion during this period.
The ministry estimates that these are conservative estimates and that the “disincentives” of the policies could still generate an additional $ 700 billion in tax collection over the next decade.
Republicans continued to raise the possibility of any new reporting rule expanding to target low-income taxpayers. Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, the leading Republican on the Finance Committee, pointed to an analysis by the Congressional Nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that estimated that half of unpaid taxes came from taxpayers earning less than $ 50. $ 000 per year.
Taxpayers earning at least $ 500,000 hide only 4-9% of the money that could be recovered by a crackdown on tax evasion, Crapo said.
Mr Wyden said the analysis was dated and crippled by the committee’s inability to track how much money was owed to the IRS, especially by those who use complex tax schemes such as tiered partnerships and multiple bank transactions, which the new reporting requirements would target.
He cited testimony on Tuesday from Assistant Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, who estimated that the richest 1% of taxpayers will pay no more than $ 2 trillion in taxes than they owe over the next 10 years. .