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Note: David Kautter becomes acting commissioner of the IRS today. Since August, Kautter has been a political appointee reporting to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
A bad leader like David Kautter could make the IRS an enforcement-free zone - at least for President Donald Trump's powerful friends.
IRS independence is important not only to guarantee robust enforcement of the tax laws, but to make sure the IRS is not weaponized into a political armament. With a president whose instincts are autocratic, there is every reason to fear the return of Nixon-era abuses, or perhaps far worse.
Kautter would be the first acting IRS Commissioner since at least 1955 never to have served on the IRS staff. Even though Trump has known about the end of the current commissioner's term since before he was elected, the president has chosen to fill the position with an interim commissioner rather than name a permanent chief who would have to go through the Senate confirmation process.
Kautter's appointment is part of a systematic effort of the Trump administration and Congress to hobble the IRS. Kautter's experience at Ernst & Young - where he helped corporations avoid taxes rather than pay them - and his political ties to Mnuchin threaten the independence and integrity of the IRS.
This appointment could stunt enforcement and open the door for our tax system to be manipulated by well-connected billionaires willing to abuse the rules. Still worse, the IRS is responsible for helping procure financial records for the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The post must be filled by someone independent, not someone who minutes ago worked directly for Mnuchin. The acting commissioner also will oversee enforcement actions such as those against billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer, whose hedge fund is in a dispute with the IRS over $7 billion in back taxes.
At a time when the president's conflicts of interest are the subject of investigations into every aspect of his businesses, it is critical to have a truly qualified and independent commissioner at the IRS. We are seeing a storm of possible tax changes coming, so the need for an unbiased and experienced hand at the wheel is paramount.
The president already has shown a willingness to unilaterally order the IRS to ignore the rules when it suits him. In an executive order signed in May, Trump prohibited the IRS from enforcing the provision that keeps churches from endorsing candidates. That provision is widely supported by religious groups but opposed by a few individuals who have the president's ear. Installing a loyalist at the top of the tax enforcement agency only worsens conflicts of interest and signals assurance to those hoping to get special treatment and evade what rules we have.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.(202) 588-1000
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," said a White House spokesperson.
The White House on Saturday condemned a newly introduced Republican bill that would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, a law that includes a number of changes aimed at lowering costs for Medicare recipients.
Unveiled Thursday by freshman Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), the bill has 20 original co-sponsors and is endorsed by several right-wing groups, including the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity.
The Biden White House argued that rolling back the Inflation Reduction Act, which also contains major climate investments, would represent "one of the biggest Medicare benefit cuts in American history" as well as a "handout to Big Pharma." According to Politico, which first reported the White House's response to the GOP bill, the administration is planning to release "state-by-state data indicating how this would affect constituents in different areas."
"House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. "Who on earth thinks that welfare for Big Pharma is worth selling out over a million seniors in their home state?”
The Inflation Reduction Act authorized a $35-per-month cap on insulin copayments for Medicare recipients, as well as an annual $2,000 total limit on out-of-pocket drug costs.
The bill will also, among other long-overdue changes, allow Medicare to begin negotiating the prices of a subset of the most expensive prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which fiercely opposed the law and are working with Republicans to sabotage it. The newly negotiated prices are set to take effect in 2026.
Ogles, whose two-page bill would eliminate the above reforms, repeatedly attacked Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs and protections during his 2022 campaign for the U.S. House.
\u201cNEW @Campbell4TN ad in TN-5: \u201cExtreme Andy Ogles in his own words \u2014 a SUPERCUT\u201d\n\nWatch @AndyOgles back a no exceptions abortion ban, cutting Medicare & Medicaid, eliminating Dept of Ed, impeaching Biden, deny the election was legit, etc\u2026 do better, TN-5.\nhttps://t.co/YhCRGXIPsU\u201d— The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler) 1667748662
The White House's critique of Ogles' bill comes as Biden is facing pressure from advocates and physicians to cancel a Medicare privatization scheme that his administration inherited from its right-wing predecessor and rebranded.
It also comes as the White House is locked in a standoff with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republican lawmakers have pushed for deeply unpopular cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other critical federal programs as a necessary condition for any deal to raise the country's borrowing limit and avert a catastrophic default.
"In less than a month, MAGA extremists have threatened to drive the economy into a recession by defaulting on our debt, promised to bring up a bill to impose a 30% national sales tax, and now have introduced legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress said in a statement. "This will cut taxes for corporations who earn billions in profit while empowering Big Pharma and Big Oil to continue ripping off the American people."
"It is vital that all Americans understand what is at risk if MAGA extremists succeed in passing their latest dangerous idea: millions of lost jobs, millions more without health insurance, and higher costs for lifesaving insulin, utilities, and more," Gaspard added.
One election expert called the decision an "electoral coup."
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled earlier this week that a leftist presidential ticket headed by Indigenous human rights defender Thelma Cabrera should be barred from the June ballot, prompting fury and vows of mass protests from Cabrera's supporters.
Thursday's ruling—which Cabrera's young political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice—stems from Guatemala electoral authorities' refusal to certify the candidacy of Cabrera's running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas.
Reporting indicates that election officials have justified stonewalling Rodas—a longtime target of Guatemala's right-wing political establishment—by citing supposed "anomalies during the collection of compensation" upon his departure from the ombudsman post last year.
But Cabrera and Rodas contend that the electoral tribunal's decision is a politically motivated attempt to keep a left-wing party—whose base is largely rural—off the ballot, which is set to include the daughter of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Montt's victims were largely Indigenous peasants.
Last month, the same electoral body that deemed Cabrera and Rodas disqualified from the June ballot ruled that Zury Ríos can participate, despite a constitutional provision barring the relatives of coup leaders from serving as Guatemala's president. Ríos was blocked from the 2019 presidential ballot on those grounds.
That year, as Nick Burns of Americas Quarterly recently reported, Cabrera "gave the Guatemalan political establishment a shock" by winning 10% of the vote in the presidential election.
"It was the most successful presidential run by an indigenous person in Guatemala’s modern history—the only other was by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in 2007, who won 3% of the vote," Burns noted. "Cabrera’s biography is striking. She grew up in a Maya Mam family of poor laborers on a coffee plantation on Guatemala's Pacific coast and was married at 15. She described in a book how she and her sister Vilma went to school through the sixth grade because their mother—who could not read or write—saw education as crucial."
Cabrera's supporters have vowed to "paralyze the country" with large-scale demonstrations if the electoral body's decision isn't reversed.
"If they do not do it, we are going to take over the international airport, the three ports of the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all state institutions," said one MLP supporter. "We are Indigenous, we are Maya, and we can be out here for a month!"
\u201c#EUElecciones2023 Manifestantes amenazan con tomar el Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora, los tres puertos del pa\u00eds y el TSE si no se inscribe al binomio presidencial del MLP | V\u00eda @noel_solis \n\n\ud83d\uddf3\ufe0f\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\uddf9 #Elecciones2023 #EleccionesGT #GUATEVOTA2023\u201d— Emisoras Unidas (@Emisoras Unidas) 1675357690
Daniel Zovatto, a political scientist and expert in Latin American elections, said the tribunal's ruling against the MLP presidential ticket amounts to an "electoral coup" that "vitiates the integrity and credibility" of the upcoming contest.
Rodas, a human rights champion, lamented in response to the decision that "democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back."
"They are afraid of the people and their sovereign decisions," he said.