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Armed IRS Agents Won't Jail You For Not Having Health Insurance

April 2, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Another day, another battle over health care reform. A false claim made by Congressional Republicans that the Affordable Care Act (H.R.3590) will result in the hiring of 16,000-16,500 new IRS agents, who might possibly be armed, is receiving some high-profile and well-deserved pushback.

Prominent Republicans in the House such as Minority Leader John Boehner [R, OH-8], Michelle Bachmann [R, MN-6] and Ron Paul [R, TX-14] have in recent days claimed that anywhere from 16,000 to 16,500 agents from the Internal Revenue Service could be deployed under the Affordable Care Act to make sure everyone purchases a health insurance plan.

Here’s Boehner (at 2:15):

“Ten billion dollars and 16,000 new IRS agents to make sure that everyone buys the health insurance that the government decides you have to have – making sure that every employer either provides health care to their employees or pays a $2,000 fine.”

Here’s Bachmann (at :20):

“…about 16,500 new jobs will be created at the IRS for a very important reason: the IRS will be tasked with breathing down the neck of 300,000 million Americans every month to determine whether we have purchased governmentally acceptable levels of health insurance.”

And here’s Rep. Paul (at 3:52):

“16,500 armed bureaucrats coming to make this program work. If it was a good program and everybody liked it, you wouldn’t need 16,500 thugs coming with their guns and putting you in jail if you didn’t follow all the rules.”

The non-partisan FactCheck.org calls these claims “wildly inaccurate” and notes that the main fuction of the IRS for health care will be to hand out tax credits:

The IRS’ main job under the new law isn’t to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them — starting this year — which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution toward their workers’ health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies — in the form of refundable tax credits — to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.

FactCheck.org also singles out a partisan report put out by House Republicans as ground zero for this talking point. The report is based on incomplete estimates by the Congressional Budget Office about administrative costs that the IRS might experience under the Affordable Care Act over ten years. Long story short: the report makes some very equivocal and highly inflated claims that the IRS “may” have to hire “as many as” 16,500 new employees.

Boehner and company then took the admittedly hesitant wording of the report and repeated it in far more definitive and false terms. Ron Paul gets extra points for imagining up guns for all these hypothetical IRS agents.

In reality, only a small percentage of IRS employees – special law enforcement agents – are allowed to carry firearms. Also, criminal penalties for failing to comply with the health insurance mandate are specifically prohibited. Furthermore, common tools used by the IRS like liens and levies are also prohibited:

(2) SPECIAL RULES- Notwithstanding any other provision of law—

    (A) WAIVER OF CRIMINAL PENALTIES- In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.

    (B) LIMITATIONS ON LIENS AND LEVIES- The Secretary shall not—

    (i) file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section, or

    (ii) levy on any such property with respect to such failure.

Linda Douglass, the Communications Director at the White House Office of Health Reform is also joining the pushback and scolds those who have spread misinformation in this debate:

What’s clear from all of this is that there are people who refuse to have a debate on the merits of health care reform. Maybe that’s because these ardent defenders of the status quo are worried about the consequences of stopping at nothing to deny the American people quality and affordable health insurance.

Image by jimmyroq used under a CC license.

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