early and often

House GOP’s IRS Vote Is Just the First of Many Dumb Gestures

McCarthy enjoying his new power to be totally irresponsible. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy celebrated his hard-earned Speakership by immediately moving a bill that perfectly symbolized what we can expect from the House Republican majority during the next two years. It sought to rescind (i.e., claw back) previously appropriated funds for filling vacant positions at the Internal Revenue Service. The measure passed on a party-line vote.

To be very clear, the “rescission” effort, advertised as stopping an “army of auditors” from assaulting the innocent American middle class in order to pay for godless socialistic government programs, was a piece of pure demagoguery, as the White House quickly pointed out, per The Hill:

The White House on Monday noted that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already made clear that none of the additional resources would be used to increase audit rates targeting small businesses or households making less than $400,000 annually …

“With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

For its part, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the clawback succeeded, it would add $115 billion to federal budget deficits over the next ten years, a detail the supposedly tight-fisted House Republicans brushed aside. The opportunity to strike a rhetorical blow at the hated tax man, whom conservatives believe has persecuted them for many years, was richer than any dollar amount saved or squandered.

The real significance of the clawback bid is that it will be the first of many “messaging” votes taken by the House, with the assurance that the Democratic-controlled Senate will ignore or kill their handiwork (with President Biden serving as the ultimate executioner, if necessary). This gives McCarthy and his troops the freedom to be as reckless as they want, cutting capers for the entertainment of conservative “base” voters watching their antics on Fox News and other friendly outlets. They can spend the rest of their time setting up “investigations” of Democratic enemies past (e.g., Anthony Fauci) and present that produce no actual consequences other than a lot of agitation of the air and some 2024 talking points.

All this meaningless activity may seem like good clean fun to Republicans who have lacked the legislative vehicles for this kind of posturing during the last two years of Democratic trifecta control of Washington. It will only matter gravely if and when the House needs to approve legislation to keep the federal government functioning, i.e., through appropriations (which will have to be extended in October) or avoiding a federal debt default that could spark a depression (which House Republicans are vowing to take hostage in pursuit of deep and unpopular cuts in major federal programs).

So in a perverse way, the responsibility bestowed on the House GOP by its five-vote majority has made rampant irresponsibility not only possible but probable on a wide range of subjects. And lest he be tempted to act like a grown-up in the months ahead, the deal McCarthy cut on a “motion to vacate the chair” means any Republican bomb thrower can threaten his grip on the gavel. We should all get used to lots of juvenile delinquency in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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House GOP’s IRS Vote Is Just the First of Many Dumb Gestures