IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel faced a grilling by lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past week, where he hinted that there’s a chance that the agency will—contrary to its repeated pledges—increase tax audits of Americans earning under $400,000.
The question of whether the IRS will use some of the $80 billion or so funding boost to increase tax enforcement of people making less than $400,000 has been a contentious issue.
IRS and Treasury Department officials have pledged not to increase audit rates for this group of Americans, while Republicans and others have argued that this pledge is either false or wishful thinking.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has directed the IRS not to raise audit rates above historical levels for this group of taxpayers, while Mr. Werfel has repeatedly made the same pledge.
But a watchdog recently cast doubt on this promise, warning that Americans making less than $400,000 could inadvertently get caught in an enforcement dragnet because the IRS doesn’t have a clear definition of “high-income” and its enforcers use an outdated $200,000 high-income threshold as their default.
Meanwhile, the latest data on the tax gap (the difference between taxes owed and paid to the government) show that it has jumped from $601 billion to $688 billion, putting pressure on the IRS to ramp up enforcement and bring in more money for all the Biden administration’s big spending plans.