Penny wise, pound foolish

PENNY WISE, POUND FOOLISH…. It’s hard to overstate how frustrating this is.

The final details of Friday’s eleventh-hour agreement on 2011 federal spending are still emerging. But Speaker Boehner is bragging about one concession he won.

President Obama’s original budget request would have given the Treasury Department money to hire additional agents for the Internal Revenue Service. The Republicans killed that provision. “The Obama administration has sought increased federal funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) — money that could be used to hire additional agents to enforce the administration’s agenda on a variety of issues,” the Speaker’s office announced. “This increased funding is denied in the agreement.”

It’s true, by the way: Hiring more IRS agents would have allowed the Obama administration to enforce its agenda, insofar as its agenda is to make sure that people don’t cheat on their taxes. Does this mean Republicans now support tax evasion?

I’ve been following this for a few weeks because it’s just such a classic example of misguided conservative thinking. The entire Republican approach is painfully backwards — the GOP intends to “save” money and lower the deficit by slashing the IRS budget, which would in turn end up costing more money.

Why? Because for every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in about $10. If the goal is reducing the deficit, undermining the agency that collects revenue doesn’t make any sense at all. Indeed, the Obama administration pushed to increase the IRS’s budget precisely because it will reduce the budget shortfall Republicans pretend to care about.

In reference to Boehner’s boast, this isn’t about “enforcing the administration’s agenda,” per se. Rather, it’s about paying for the government and the services it provides. It’s an obvious, fiscally-responsible move. We’re not even talking about raising taxes, but rather, collecting the taxes people already owe. If tax law is enforced properly, the deficit that the right believes threatens the fabric of civilization will go down considerably.

Except, Republicans refuse to see it that way. Their alleged interest in reducing the deficit leads them to pursue policies that will make it harder to reduce the deficit.

As if this weren’t quite frustrating enough, Sam Stein reports that the Government Accountability Office, just yesterday, released a study that found that, “as of the end of fiscal year 2010, roughly $330 billion in federal taxes had never been paid — an amount that, if collected, would represent nearly nine times the amount of savings as the budget itself.”

Despite all of this, Republicans refuse to consider common sense and arithmetic. The limit of their policy imaginations stops after “IRS = bad.”

It’s exasperating.