Roskam & Crenshaw Push to Rein in the IRS

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WASHINGTON, DC – With tax day once again upon us, The Ripon Society hosted a breakfast discussion yesterday morning with two U.S. Congressmen who are leading the effort to reform the tax code and rein in the Internal Revenue Service.

The Congressmen were Peter Roskam, who represents the 6th District of Illinois and serves as Chairman of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Oversight, and Ander Crenshaw, who represents the 4th District of Florida and serves as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services & General Government.

“When I took over four years ago,” Crenshaw stated, referring to when he assumed the helm of the panel, “we began to cut the IRS’s appropriations because, frankly, they’re wasting taxpayer dollars. Every year, they would come in and say they were spending $50 million on some conferences, and made some really cute videos. And we would tell them they shouldn’t do that anymore. And they would say they just paid $38 million in bonuses to some folks who actually had delinquent tax bills. And we would tell them they shouldn’t do that anymore, either. And then they would say they need more money because they could only answer 37% of the phone calls that come in.

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“So I asked John Koskinen why they didn’t just spend some of the money they spend on conferences and videos on answering the telephone instead. He said they couldn’t do that. It’s the classic kind of Washington mentality — when you don’t have money, you make it really painful for all the people. You turn out the lights in the Washington Monument. You close all of the National Parks. You don’t answer the phone. The IRS can do a lot of other things, but they can’t answer the phone.”

“So last year, in an abundance of benevolence I guess, the IRS got $290 million, specifically for customer service and cybersecurity. So far this year, they’re up to 47% of the telephone calls being answered. They’re answering almost half of all of the phone calls with that $290 million … We’re trying to say to them, like any other federal agency, ‘We’re not going to give you any more of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars until you show us that you can spend it correctly.’”

To help achieve this goal, Crenshaw noted that his Subcommittee is working on legislation that is designed to not only give the IRS the resources to do their job, but be held accountable for the duties they are expected to perform.

“They’re being funded at about 2008 levels, which I think, frankly, is appropriate,” the Florida lawmaker observed. “We’re putting into our appropriations bill some policy-type issues to get them back on track. They can do a better job – and they actually are doing a little better in terms of finding voter fraud. But they’re not in the real world yet. They’re antiquated. And that’s what Peter’s working on as well.”

Roskam agreed, and opened his remarks by recounting a story he related to The Ripon Story in his last appearance before the group this past year. The story involves a married couple named the Sowers who own a dairy farm in Maryland and had their assets unjustly seized by the IRS. After succeeding in getting the IRS Commissioner to apologize to the couple and change the policy which permitted them to carry out this seizure, Roskam said he convened a meeting six weeks ago to recover the assets of the Sowers and others just like them.

“I am expecting a meeting that is to last 10 minutes,” Roskam, recalled, “ and for them to go, ‘Congressman, here is the list of people that we shook down. We took 50 grand from this person, 80 grand from this person, 20 grand from this person, and we’ve restored these people their money.’ Oh no — the meeting didn’t go like that. An hour and a half later at the end of the meeting, I told the three big shots from the IRS and the three big shots from the Department of Justice: ‘I am more frightened of you then I was when I walked in this room. You know why? Because you are completely out of touch with any notion of justice. You’re with the Department of Justice? I am asking you what has happened with money the Commissioner has apologized for. You have changed your policy, and you’re telling me that you can’t get their money back.’


“And you know why they said they couldn’t get their money back? It’s because the money has been — ready for this? — ‘dissipated’ into the federal system. I said, ‘Okay, let me get this right. When my constituents have a tax liability, and they spend their money, and it’s been dissipated into the economy, what do you do? You take their home and you put them in prison, that’s what you do.’ I said, ‘You’re Inspector Javert from Les Mis – you’re the one that everybody hates!’

“So here’s my point. You’ve got an attitude and a disposition – remember that line from Animal House? ‘Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.’ There is malevolence here, and a disposition, and an attitude that just takes your breath away… We’ve got to reform this tax code. It is too complicated. It is too difficult. And it is highly manipulated by the Internal Revenue Service.”

In response to a follow-up question, Roskam revealed that he succeeded in getting the Sowers’ money back. For other innocent taxpayers, that is not yet the case. “It’s like dental work,” he said. “We’ve got some work to do, but they’re going to get their money back.”

With an eye to the upcoming election, Roskam was also asked what the next IRS Commissioner should be like if a Republican wins the White House next year.

“The IRS Commissioner should be like my fourth grade teacher, Miss Anderson,” the Illinois Representative replied. “I had her in her last year of teaching. She was an old maid schoolteacher, and she was tough but fair. Don’t jerk around, don’t talk when the woman’s talking, and life was pretty good. I think that the Commissioner and the IRS should just go out and collect the taxes. And if they have a problem with the underlying statute, come and tell Congress. Congress will then make a decision about it, but just collect the taxes. No adventures, no initiatives, just figure out how to make sure that identities are not stolen, figure out how to make sure that rings of Russian criminals are not ripping us off online — which is absolutely happening right now. Collect the taxes, no adventures, and I think everybody will be happy.”

The last question of the morning went to Crenshaw, who announced Wednesday that he was retiring from Congress after eight terms in office, and was asked about his decision to leave public life.

“I think all good things have to end sometime,” he said, “I always knew I would know when it was time. And it just seems like a good time. I’m proud of what I’ve done. It’s been a privilege to serve. But it’s kind of like turning the page to see what’s next. I don’t have any plans — I’m not leaving here to do something else. I’ve just decided this is something I’m not going to do anymore. And once you make that decision, it’s a very good feeling.”

To view Chairman Crenshaw and Chairman Roskam’s remarks to The Ripon Society yesterday morning, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.