It didn’t take long for the new House speaker, Mike Johnson, to demonstrate to the world that he will not be a serious partner for American allies or for those who still believe that governing is not a petty little game.
On Monday, only five days after being elevated to one of the most important leadership roles in the country, he upended a major foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, meekly obeying those Republican House members who see their main role as disengaging from the world and taking self-destructive potshots at Democrats. Nothing in Mr. Johnson’s record suggested he might try to shore up America’s leadership in the world, but his actions show that his new position has not added any gravitas to his thinking; he’s just pandering to his cronies in the far right wing.
Specifically, he stripped money for Ukraine and Taiwan from the $105 billion package requested by President Biden, leaving only the $14.3 billion the administration wants to send to Israel. But then he imposed a condition on the Israel money: Mr. Biden must agree to cut the same amount out of the money the Internal Revenue Service uses to chase down high-income tax cheats. So essentially the U.S. can protect Israel as long as it also protects rich white-collar criminals.
The I.R.S., of course, has nothing to do with the war between Israel and Hamas, but it has everything to do with the Republican desire to score political points whenever possible. Ever since Mr. Biden won $80 billion for stronger I.R.S. enforcement in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, Republicans have made that money a target, exploiting the agency’s Sheriff-of-Nottingham public image by trying to delude ordinary taxpayers into believing the extra funds meant the agency was coming after them.
But the aim of the extra enforcement was always the wealthy, whose complex tax fraud schemes cost the Treasury billions every year. Reducing the I.R.S. budget would actually widen the deficit, the opposite of what Republicans claim they care about. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that if the I.R.S. enforcement budget is cut by $25 billion, as some Senate Republicans have proposed, it would cost $49 billion in revenue from auditing the rich, and widen the 10-year deficit by nearly $24 billion.
Another study published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that every additional dollar spent on auditing high-income taxpayers yielded $12 in new revenue for the Treasury. By that calculation, Mr. Johnson’s stunt could cost the country $171.6 billion. Earlier this year, Republicans forced Mr. Biden to cut $20 billion from the I.R.S. as part of the price for avoiding a debt default; having shown that the White House would agree to chip away at a top priority to prevent a crisis, they are returning to the same playbook.
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