Jake Tapper Corners GOP Rep. Over IRS Falsehoods: ‘Why Not Just Be Honest?’

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CNN anchor Jake Tapper repeatedly confronted Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) on Tuesday over Republicans’ misleading claims that Democrats are trying to fund an army of 87,000 IRS agents to hunt down everyday Americans.

“Why not just be honest?” Tapper asked Johnson at one point.

Days after House Republicans finally elected a speaker after a week-long stalemate that culminated in a near-fistfight on the chamber floor, the brand-new GOP majority passed its first bill on Tuesday.

The legislation, which the White House has threatened to veto if it were to pass the Senate (it won’t), would repeal most of the funding to the Internal Revenue Service that was included in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The sweeping climate, tax, and health care bill allocated $80 billion to the IRS over the next decade, much of it for tax enforcement.

Since last year, GOP lawmakers and right-wing media have pushed the “zombie claim” that the Biden administration is planning on unleashing 87,000 IRS agents on the American public with this funding. The basis for this falsehood lies in a 2021 Treasury report about how the White House could better collect unpaid taxes, which included a chart showing that $80 billion in new funding could allow the agency to hire 86,852 full-time employees over the next ten years.

Fact-checkers, meanwhile, have endlessly pointed out that even if the new IRS funding were only for hiring new employees (it isn’t), most of them wouldn’t be “agents,” who audit and investigate tax returns. Also, most new staffers would replace existing ones, as the IRS estimates that it will need to “replace more than 50,000 workers lost through attrition over the next six years.”

Interviewing Johnson on Tuesday afternoon, Tapper noted that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Republicans’ bill to defund the IRS would add over $100 billion to the deficit over the next decade.

“You supported the House bill we just discussed,” the CNN anchor said. “It would rescind billions of dollars to the IRS. You tweeted, you will vote to stop the 87,000 IRS agents from going after families. That’s not true. It would be employees, not agents.”

After Johnson claimed that “only in the bizarro world of Washington” would a bill that eliminates spending add money to the budget, Tapper explained that the legislation would eliminate tax enforcement on wealthy individuals and corporations.

Johnson, however, claimed the “intent of hiring all of these new agents” is to go after “hard-working families and small businesses,” prompting Tapper to grill him on his repeated talking point.

“This is not Republican talking points,” Johnson insisted, citing the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation’s evaluation of the Treasury report. “We disagree with that. We have a different agenda.”

A bemused Tapper shot back: “But I quoted the CBO and you went after them! They’re nonpartisan too.”

Johnson asserted that the CBO “doesn’t have a lot of credibility right now” before demanding more transparency, causing the CNN anchor to corner the Louisiana lawmaker.

“I mean, well, I’m just saying. Why not just be honest about what the bill would actually do?” Tapper wondered.

“I am honest!” Johnson exclaimed.

“You said 87,000 IRS agents. That’s not what it is,” the veteran CNN host retorted.

“Jake, that is exactly what it is,” the Republican congressman confidently declared. “That is the Treasury’s own published report in 2021 that they said, as you noted, over a ten-year period they wanted to add 86,000-and-something—”

“Employees! Not agents. Employees,” Tapper interjected.

“Jake, you know what all of those positions are going to be? Have you seen the analysis?” Johnson deflected.

“So you’re saying every one of the 86,000-plus is going to be an IRS agent?” Tapper fired back.

“No. I’m not saying every one of them but I’m saying a large percentage of those will be employees who are deemed as agents to go after and do audits,” Johnson conceded, contradicting his earlier claims. “That’s a large—very important function of the IRS. That’s not hyperbole. That’s what’s on paper.”

Amid CNN boss Chris Licht’s more middle-of-the-road approach of late, Republicans and conservatives have been flocking to CNN recently. During the House drama last week, at least 42 GOP House members appeared on the network that former President Donald Trump branded “fake news.”

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