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Why Utah GOP congressmen voted against Inflation Reduction Act

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A sign is displayed outside the Internal Revenue Service building.

A sign is displayed outside of the Internal Revenue Service building on May 4, 2021, in Washington. Utah’s four Republican congressmen voted against the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to address taxes, health care spending and climate change. 

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Utah’s four Republican congressmen Friday voted against the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to address taxes, health care spending and climate change

The $700 billion-plus package, which contains about $437 billion in new spending, passed the House 220-207. The Senate approved the 750-page bill on Sunday along party lines, with all 50 Senate Republicans, including Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, voting “no” and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie in the evenly divided chamber.

“This is historic, and it is cause for celebration,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., lauding President Joe Biden, who is expected to quickly sign the bill. “We put people over politics.”

The legislation marks the largest investment in addressing climate change in U.S. history, allows Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the costliest prescription drugs and extends health care subsidies through the 2024 election, per Politico.

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said in a lengthy statement after the vote that the bill is nothing more than a vehicle for Democrats to push their partisan agenda.

“I fail to understand how this package reduces inflation. This bill will reduce economic output, add to the deficit, and cost tens of thousands of full-time jobs.”

Ahead of Friday’s vote, Moore said that he “adamantly” opposed the legislation, calling additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service “completely misguided.” His northern Utah district is home to thousands of IRS workers.

“What I have learned through working with them is that the IRS does need support. They need better technologies and better customer service capabilities. What they are not in need of, however, is what the Democrats are pushing for in their massive federal spending package,” he said.

The bill would direct about $80 billion to the IRS, with more than $45 billion of that to be used for tax payment enforcement. Another $25 billion will go to operational support, almost $5 billion for new technology and $3 billion for services for taxpayers, including prefiling assistance and education, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Moore and Republicans say the funding would allow the IRS to hire 87,000 agents to conduct more audits of Americans in nearly every tax bracket. And, he said, “we have seen the IRS directed to target certain populations, often conservative groups, and I’m concerned we would see similar biased and political activity with this new funding.”

Low and middle income earners will be hit with an estimated 700,000 new audits, which would hurt small businesses and low-income Americans, Moore said.

“This is the worst possible way to raise tax revenues after two quarters of negative GDP growth.”

The potential for more audits and hassles with the IRS targeting average Americans has been a talking point among Republicans in Congress as the legislation advanced, while Democrats have emphasized the need to collect taxes owed by wealthy tax scofflaws, including corporations.

The 87,000 figure came from a Treasury report released in May 2021 about how the Biden administration hoped to address the “tax gap” — the difference between what is owed to the government and what is actually paid. That figure was believed to be at least $381 billion a year, with most of it because of underreporting of income, according to the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee.

The Biden administration is planning to hire 87,000 IRS employees over the next 10 years — not IRS audit agents — and many will be replacing people who will retire soon, according to The Washington Post. The report says the new staff, added in annual increments of about 7,000 to 12,000 people, would conduct audits, improve informational technology and enhance customer service.

The IRS has about 82,000 employees — down from 90,000 in 2012 — but when all is said and done, the size of the agency should grow 25% to 30%, the Post reported.

Other GOP House members from Utah have also cited the hiring of more IRS agents among their reasons for opposing the bill.

“Last year, households earning less than $25,000 were FIVE TIMES more likely to be audited by the IRS. Now Democrats are fighting to bankroll 87,000 NEW agents. This is the last thing Americans need,” Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, tweeted.

After Friday’s vote, Owens said in a statement that Biden’s economic agenda has steered the country into a recession, and the Democrats are trying to spend their way out. He called the bill a “scam” that fails to reduce inflation, slash prices or crack down on wealthy tax cheats.

Utah families have been crushed by skyrocketing costs at the pump, in the grocery store and everywhere in between, he said.

“Instead of working to provide relief, the ‘Inflation, Recession, and IRS Army Act’ increases inflation, raises taxes on Americans earning less than $200,000 per year, and weaponizes the IRS by bankrolling 87,000 new agents to audit all income levels,” he said.

Saying he “vehemently” opposed the measure, Rep. John Curtis said in a statement that people can respectfully disagree about the best path forward on an issue, including the topics covered in the bill.

“That said, I am deeply concerned about this legislation, both on substance and my colleagues’ disregard for those impacted,” he said.

“This bill is nothing more than a grab bag of miscellaneous Democrat priorities which increase taxes at the cost of middle-class families, hurt economic growth, reduce the amount of lifesaving new drugs that enter the market, and pick winners and losers in the energy space at the cost of innovation.”

Curtis, R-Utah, said the legislation is not good for Utah or the country. He said that the number of new IRS agents is more than the number of people employed at the Pentagon, U.S. Border Patrol and FBI combined.

“And their job — find ways to pay for the extra spending through audits. More government isn’t the answer,” he said in a tweet.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, argues the bill would have little to no impact on inflation, citing the nonpartisan Penn Wharton Business Model, the Congressional Budget Office and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The White House says the package will address inflation by lowering energy and health care costs for families and by helping to bring down the deficit.

This bill caps seniors’ out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs at $2,000 per year, regardless of what their drug bills would otherwise be. In addition, 13 million Americans, covered under the Affordable Care Act, will see their health insurance premiums reduced by $800, Biden said in a statement after the Senate passed the measure.

The legislation also aims to tackle climate change and strengthen energy security by creating jobs manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles in America with American workers. Biden said it would lower families’ energy costs by hundreds of dollars each year. 

Biden said the establishment of a minimum corporate tax so that the country’s richest companies will pay their fair share for the bill’s initiative.

“It does not raise taxes on those making under $400,000 a year — not one cent,” the president said.

Lee tweeted Friday that the bill is “poison masquerading as a cure.”

Earlier, Lee said families can’t afford the Biden administration’s latest “tax-and-spend scheme. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then spending more money and increasing taxes to reduce inflation meets that definition.”

Romney last week called the bill a “liberal wish list” that reduces oil and gas production and raises taxes that companies will pass on to consumers.