News

Feb 23, 2011

Republican calls IRS agents a ‘goon squad’

By Bernie Becker, The Hill

February 16, 2011

A Democratic lawmaker got a bit hot under the collar at a House Budget Committee hearing  Wednesday afternoon — but his anger wasn’t directed at the panel’s guest of honor, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Instead, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) was miffed that his Budget panel colleague, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), branded IRS employees a “goon squad.”

That label, Blumenauer retorted, “is offensive on so many levels.”

The back-and-forth began after Akin questioned Geithner about President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget, which includes spending increases for the IRS that could reportedly lead to thousands of more staffers at the agency.

The Missouri congressman said he thought energy might be better spent simplifying the tax code. “Not to mention the fact that it’d make us all look better if we don’t have a goon squad of 5,000 IRS agents tromping around the country with the economy the way it is,” Akin said.

For his part, Geithner tried to point out that many of the new IRS employees would concentrate more on customer service or information technology than enforcement, and he referenced estimates that a dollar’s worth of enforcement could bring roughly $4 back in revenue.

But that argument did not assuage Akin very much. “’I’m from the IRS. I’m here to help you,’” the congressman said. “That’s hard to sell in the state of Missouri.”

Blumenauer, meanwhile, said he welcomed his colleague’s call to simplify the tax code, but said any blame for the state of the current code should go to the legislative branch.

“It was Congress that gave the IRS this mess to interpret,” Blumenauer said, pounding the table for emphasis.

During the hearing, Geithner also criticized the country’s current method for dealing with the debt ceiling, with current lawmakers forced to raise the limit after past Congresses made certain financial obligations.

“There is no country on the planet that puts its members through this type of torture,” Geithner said. “To have to vote occasionally around increasing a limit that has already been locked in over time. Again, it’s not a sensible way to run a country.”

The secretary’s comments on raising the debt ceiling eventually led to a lighthearted response from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Budget panel’s chairman.

“There’s nothing good to say about it. Except that you have to do it,” Geithner said.

“That’s inspiring. Thank you,” Ryan replied.