Those imaginary IRS agents

THOSE IMAGINARY IRS AGENTS…. Not quite two weeks ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on Fox News with a new warning for those concerned about health care reform:

“Ten billion dollars and 16,000 new IRS agents to make sure that everyone buys the health insurance that the government decides you have to have.”

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) went a little further, saying there will be 16,500 new IRS agents, each of whom will be “armed.”

Boehner and Paul were blatantly and shamelessly lying. FactCheck.org looked into this and concluded that it’s a “wildly inaccurate claim.” The Affordable Care Act, the researchers concluded, “requires the IRS mostly to hand out tax credits, not collect penalties. The claim of 16,500 new agents stems from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation.”

The IRS’ main job under the new law isn’t to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them — starting this year — which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution toward their workers’ health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies — in the form of refundable tax credits — to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.

The law does make individuals subject to a tax, starting in 2014, if they fail to obtain health insurance coverage. But IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified before a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee March 25 that the IRS won’t be auditing individuals to certify that they have obtained health insurance. He said insurance companies will issue forms certifying that individuals have coverage that meets the federal mandate, similar to a form that lenders use to verify the amount of interest someone has paid on their home mortgage. “We expect to get a simple form, that we won’t look behind, that says this person has acceptable health coverage,” Shulman said. “So there’s not going to be any discussions about health coverage with an IRS employee.” In any case, the bill signed into law (on page 131) specifically prohibits the IRS from using the liens and levies commonly used to collect money owed by delinquent taxpayers, and rules out any criminal penalties for individuals who refuse to pay the tax or those who don’t obtain coverage. That doesn’t leave a lot for IRS enforcers to do.

How’d this nonsense get started? Apparently, some Republican staffers on the Hill concluded that it may “may” be necessary for the IRS to add “as many as 16,500” additional employees to enforce the law. The GOP staffers apparently made up the number, based on bizarre assumptions.

From there, Boehner, Paul, and other assorted Republican voices on the Hill and on Fox News’ payroll (that means you, Brian Kilmeade) began presenting this foolish claim — and adding ridiculous details — to Americans as if it were fact.

Is it any wonder the public is confused about the policy when professional liars have been spreading garbage like this?