Top advisers in the Trump administration and the former president’s campaign see President Biden’s push to boost the power and scope of the IRS as a path back to Republican majorities in the House and Senate next year.
The Coalition to Protect American Workers, a conservative advocacy group, is targeting vulnerable House Democrats with a foreboding ad campaign warning voters that Mr. Biden wants to deploy an “army” of agents from the tax collecting agency to harass taxpayers.
Tony Fabrizio, who was the Trump campaign’s chief pollster, said messaging tied to Mr. Biden’s plan to boost IRS funding in order to target the wealthy for audits got the strongest negative reaction among a handful of the administration’s tax proposals.
“The top message here is: voting to raise taxes in order to spend $80 billion so the IRS can hire more tax collectors,” he said.
Mr. Fabrizio’s firm tested different messages tied to the president’s tax plans in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District and New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Josh Gottheimer, respectively.
Pollsters asked voters whether they were more likely or less likely to support Ms. Bourdeaux and Mr. Gottheimer if they backed tax hikes to fund Mr. Biden’s electric vehicle agenda, if they voted to raise taxes to boost the state and local tax deduction, and if they voted to raise capital gains taxes.
Mr. Fabrizio said voters, in general, are skeptical that their taxes will stay flat when there is talk of reforms.
“I don’t know how many focus groups you’ve sat through, but … most voters do not believe that I’m not going to tax you,” he said. “And so they start off from a very pessimistic and they start off from a very suspicious standpoint.”
Mr. Fabrizio conducted the polling for the coalition, led in part by Marc Short, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence in the Trump administration.
The group is targeting Ms. Bourdeaux and Rep. Conor Lamb, Pennsylvania Democrat, in an ad campaign that portrays dark-suited “IRS agents” coming for Americans’ pocketbooks.
“The new America — where congressional Democrats want to defund the police and Biden wants to add thousands of IRS agents,” the ad says.
Mr. Short said the group plans to have polling on Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Cynthia Axne.
He said the administration is politically smart to paint the president’s desired tax increases as falling only on the wealthy and corporations, but he added that it’s not that simple.
“Our posture is [that] their tax plan is going to be much broader than that,” Mr. Short said.
He said increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% generates roughly $700 billion in revenue under a best-case scenario.
“Yet their total tax plan is near $3 trillion,” he said. “So, where’s the rest of it?”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president’s tax enforcement plan would focus on people who aren’t paying their “fair share.”
“That is not hardworking, middle-class Americans who are working hard, paying taxes, putting food on the table,” Ms. Psaki said. “There are a range of other entities that are less likely to pay their fair share of taxes.”
She was responding to a question from The Washington Times on potential political blowback to the president’s plans for the IRS.
Mr. Biden’s plan also calls for banks to report annual account inflows and outflows in the apparent hope of sniffing out additional taxable income. That raised concerns about how much of Americans’ information the IRS needs.
“We don’t need an IRS snooping around in our records,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on Fox Business Network. “They ought to be able to do their job without that.”
Asked about the inflow/outflow provision, Ms. Psaki said the administration is focusing on ensuring that Americans are paying the taxes they owe.
“And if they are paying the taxes that they [owe], then they have little to worry about,” she said.
The Treasury Department released a report Thursday estimating that Mr. Biden’s tax enforcement plan, which he wants to use to fund his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, would generate an additional $700 billion over the next decade and $1.6 trillion in the decade after that.
The report said it could take years for noticeable returns from measures such as an $80 billion boost in funding for the IRS.
“This revenue is backloaded in the 10-year budget window as several of these new investments — such as hiring revenue agents capable of complex global high net-worth examinations and building the technological infrastructure to support a new information reporting regime — take years to reach their full potential,” the report said.
Republicans are skeptical that Mr. Biden’s push to close the “tax gap” — the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid — will generate the revenue the White House is projecting.
“As you know, tax gap estimates have always drawn interest because there appear to be significant resources available from enhancing compliance,” Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig this month. “Yet, actually realizing those resources from enhanced IRS funding has not always proven easy or transparent.”
The White House has said that under the president’s IRS enforcement plan, audit rates for people making less than $400,000 per year would not increase relative to recent years.
Mr. Biden predicted that such an effort to close the tax gap could win support from Republicans. He estimated that the stepped-up enforcement could help generate $700 billion to $1.3 trillion for the federal government.
“Let’s say it’s somewhere in between. That’s a trillion dollars. I’m confident they would go for that,” the president recently told MSNBC.