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PolitiFact VA: Virginia GOP delegation repeats debunked IRS claim

sunrise at the United States Capitol building
Office of Congressman Robert Garcia
Wikimedia Commons
The claim about legions of new IRS agents has been a national GOP talking point since mid-2022.

All five Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation have spread a repeatedly debunked claim this month that President Joe Biden is planning to sic 87,000 Internal Revenue Service agents on taxpayers.

Their inaccurate statements came during the days surrounding a Jan. 9 party-line vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to strip $71 billion from the IRS budget over the next 10 years. The measure, one of the first actions by Republicans since they took charge of the House on Jan. 3, has little chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate. The White House has said Biden will veto it if it reaches his desk.

The claim about legions of new IRS agents has been a national GOP talking point since mid-2022, when Congress (then fully under Democratic control) was advancing a broad inflation reduction act that appropriated an additional $80 billion over a decade to modernize the IRS. Among those repeatedly making the claim is new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The “87,000 IRS agents” figure comes from a May 2021 Treasury Department assessment of how it would use $80 billion to improve IRS operations. The report said the IRS would add 86,852 full-time equivalent positions as part of those improvements. The White House hasn’t released a specific plan for how those IRS funds would be spent, but slightly more than half — $45.6 billion over 10 years — would be spent on tax enforcement.

In other words, not all of the projected hires would be tax enforcement agents. Many will work in information technology, customer service or other departments within the agency. And not all will be new employees added to the overall workforce. Many will replace an estimated 50,000 IRS workers who are expected to retire or otherwise exit the agency within the next six years.

Today, the IRS has about 80,000 full-time equivalent employees, including 10,500 agents, and a $13.7 billion budget. Funding for the agency has been cut since 2012, when it had a $14.3 billion budget and roughly 90,000 employees. The result has been a drop in audit rates — especially among wealthy taxpayers, according to the General Accounting Office. There are also many complaints that the agency’s customer service quality has declined.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the $80 billion, 10-year investment in the IRS will boost tax collections by $204 billion. The Biden administration has said that audit rates will only increase for people and businesses making more than $400,000 a year.

GOP delegation’s claims

Despite these well-vetted facts, all five of Virginia’s Republican congress members told constituents that they voted to block the IRS from deploying 87,000 agents.

Rep. Ben Cline (6th District) said in a Jan. 9 Facebook post, “Tonight, House Republicans just voted to DEFUND Joe Biden’s army of 87,000 new IRS agents.”

Cline was more specific the next day when he posted, “Last night,House Republicans BLOCKED the Biden admin from unleashing 87,000 new IRS agents & staff on families & small businesses.”

Rep. Rob Wittman (1st District) tweeted on Jan. 10, “Last night, I voted YES to defunding the 87,000 IRS agents President Biden planned to unleash on hardworking Americans and small businesses.”

Rep. Jen Kiggans (2nd District) tweeted on Jan. 9, “It's 9:00 PM on Monday. Time to vote…to repeal the $80 billion for 87,000 new IRS agents! Americans deserve less government, not more!” Attached was a video of her walking down a congressional hall while making an almost identical statement.

Rep. Bob Good (5th District) tweeted on Jan. 10, “I voted to defund Biden’s 87,000 IRS agents. We must block the radical Biden agenda and put power back in the hands of the American people.” Good similarly mischaracterized the IRS funding plan in August 2022 and received a Mostly False rating from PolitiFact Virginia.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (9th District) appeared on the John Fredericks Show on Jan. 11 and did not challenge the conservative host’s statement about “these 87,000 agents who are basically hired to to weaponize and terrorize Trump supporters, populists and small business owners.”

Griffith was asked about the chance of getting the IRS cut passed in the Senate and signed by Biden. “I can’t tell you that it looks very rosy getting those 87,000 agents out of the way,” he said.

We asked each of the five congressional offices to back up their claims about 87,000 agents. Each pointed to the Treasury Department’s projections that the bill Democrats passed last year will allow the IRS to hire 86,852 full-time equivalent workers — not just enforcement agents — over 10 years.

The projections, as we noted, contain an important qualification that Republicans didn’t pass on: About 50,000 of those new IRS workers will replace employees expected to leave the agency during the next six years.