Ranking Member Lewis Opening Statement at Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on 2017 Tax Filing Season
(Remarks as prepared)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the 2017 tax filing season. I would also like to thank all the witnesses for being here today.
First, let me congratulate the Internal Revenue Service on a successful filing season. Through mid-April, the agency processed over 115 million tax returns and delivered more than 85 million tax refunds—worth $245 billion. There were no major delays.
Last Congress, we provided additional funding for taxpayer service, and the results are encouraging. The telephone level of service continued to improve, and taxpayers’ average wait time went down to about seven minutes. This is good start, and with bipartisan support, it can be better.
Congress must fully fund the IRS. Despite the success of the filing season, I am concerned that the agency does not have the resources to serve taxpayers. Since 2010, Congress cut the IRS budget by almost $1 billion. This is not right.
For some reason, the Majority seems to think that outsourcing a core government function helps an underfunded agency. For the record, I want to be crystal clear—in today’s world, private debt collection will only make a bad situation much worse.
We have been down this road before. It has been tried and tried again. Each and every single time, private debt collection fails. It creates confusion and wastes taxpayer dollars. Most importantly, the program does not help or serve the American people.
Let me explain how things have changed since Congress last repealed this program. In the fall of 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration began investigating a new wave of scams.
Nearly two million victims received telephone calls from people pretending to be IRS or Department of Treasury employees. Some of us—even Members of this very Committee—received calls from these criminals. The thieves demand money; they claim that the victim owes unpaid taxes. To date, these criminals have swindled taxpayers out of $55 million.
Before the return of the private debt collectors, our best defense for taxpayers was a simple and clear message: the agency will never call you. Now, there is confusion. The new message is that the IRS will not call you, but a private debt collector might. It makes absolutely no sense.
Mr. Chairman, today I am introducing the Taxpayer Protection Act that will repeal this terrible program, and I hope all of my friends on both sides of the aisle will support this common-sense bill.
This afternoon, the Administration released its principles for tax reform. I must express my concern about beginning tax reform when the public has no idea how the proposal will personally benefit the First Family.
On April 15th, thousands of Americans took to the streets and demanded transparency, truth, and accountability. They know that there is no provision in the Internal Revenue Code that prevents him from releasing his tax returns. Failure to meet this standard presents a dangerous and slippery slope for policy makers. The American people expect and deserve better.
Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding today’s hearing. I look forward to the hearing from the witnesses.