So Bezos can claim he only “made” $80,000 in wages—that’s his Amazon salary. “The top 25 wealthiest Americans reported $158 million in wages in 2018, according to the IRS data. That’s a mere 1.1% of what they listed on their tax forms as their total reported income.” At the same time, the millions of actual wage earners in the country paid more in taxes than they earned in wealth in the last decade. Here’s a clarifying example on that from Propublica: “for every $100 of wealth growth over that period, typical Americans paid $160 in taxes. Bezos paid only $1.09.”
There’s an awful lot to dig into with that story, but the other side of it—the policy side and the Republican fight to destroy the IRS, literally—has to be considered as well. The Biden administration wants to make some modest changes to all this, including a boost in IRS funding to allow it to function properly, potentially bringing in $700 billion in revenue over the next decade and giving the agency audit power it hasn’t had in years due to budget cuts.
Remember that increasing the IRS’ budget and its enforcement power is how the administration has approached increasing revenue because it will help avoid the larger political fights that would block real tax reform—the kind of reform that would keep Bezos from getting child tax credits. Even enforcing existing tax law, though, is being panned by Republicans.
Like Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose estimated net worth in 2018 was approximately $34,137,534. McConnell’s project to “virtually abolish the IRS as you know it” began in 1997, when he was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Accountable.us reports a fundraising letter signed by McConnell sent out in 1997 that promises: “With your immediate help today, we can virtually abolish the IRS as you know it.” McConnell is still railing against the IRS and introducing a bill aimed at preventing the IRS from “being used as a political weapon.” That’s McConnell once again dredging up one of the biggest scandals manufactured by Republicans against the Obama administration, the supposed targeting of Tea Party organizations by the IRS. Which wasn’t a thing. Not one Tea Party group was denied tax exempt status.
That bogus scandal has fueled years of anti-IRS agitation from McConnell’s fellow Republican millionaires. Like Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, with a net worth about $1.8 million in 2018. He wrote an opinion piece in 2016 saying, “Instead of spending millions in an attempt to fix the IRS, we should abolish the agency through comprehensive tax reform.” Tax “reform” that wouldn’t touch millionaires.
Or how about Sen. Ted Cruz (nearly $3.2 million in 2018). He called abolishing the IRS the “single most important tax reform” back in 2013: “We need to padlock and shut down the building, abolish the IRS, and move to a flat tax or the FAIR tax,” he said.
There’s Rep. Michael McCaul from Texas, with an estimated net worth of $113 million. He’s also got the distinction of being the biggest residential water user in Austin with his $7.3 million home. He’s got lots of company: Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter from Georgia, worth over $33 million in 2018; Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, $1.2 million; Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, about $1.2 million—and another dozen at least. They’ve all called for abolishing the IRS, and repealing the income tax.
That’s been standing in the way of any kind of tax reform for decades. Of course it’s personal interest, and of course it’s protecting their own donors and pals. There’s also the part where destroying the IRS feeds into the making government small enough to drown in the tub. It’s a key agency to destroy, like Social Security, because it has direct and regular public contact. Making people dissatisfied with these agencies makes them easier to kill off, and that’s what years and years of budget cuts has been partly in pursuit of. That and keeping personal fortunes out of public hands.
Meanwhile, the IRS—still in the hands o the Trump-appointed IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig—is immediately going to start an investigation. Not into how the 25 billionaires got away with paying so little in taxes. No, into the leak of data to ProPublica.