Several major national news outlets are promoting House Republicans’ deceptive spin as the party seeks to leverage emergency funding for Israel to enact its top priority of protecting wealthy tax cheats.
President Joe Biden requested $105 billion in emergency supplemental funding earlier this month. His proposed package includes military aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan; money to enhance U.S. border security; and humanitarian aid for Palestinian, Israeli, and Ukrainian civilians.
But in a Fox interview last week, newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said he planned to split up the package and pass stand-alone Israel funds that would be offset by what he called “pay-fors in the budget.” Johnson explained, “We’re not just printing money to send it overseas. We’re going to find the cuts elsewhere to do that.” House Republicans released their bill on Monday, which pairs $14.3 billion for Israel with $14.3 billion in cuts from the enhanced funding for the Internal Revenue Service passed in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Crucially, this is neither a pay-for nor an offset in any real way but would actually lead to an increase in the deficit: The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the IRA’s $80 billion for the IRS over 10 years, which includes a boost to enforcement spending, would “yield $180 billion in additional revenue for a net savings of $100 billion.” Just last week, the IRS reported that the IRA funds had allowed it to launch a crackdown on wealthy tax cheats that had already brought it $160 million in back taxes.
But the right is violently opposed to the government forcing wealthy taxpayers to pay what they owe. Right-wing propagandists have been screaming about that provision since it was proposed, describing increased funding for the IRS as, among other things, a dystopian plot to “hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers.” Republicans, meanwhile, made overturning those funds their top priority.
Johnson’s proposal uses the Israel aid package as an opportunity to achieve the Republican goal of protecting wealthy tax cheats. He’s counting on journalists to fail to explain this to their audiences — and in many cases thus far, that bet has worked out for him.
Some major news outlets promoted the GOP’s spin that the IRS funding cuts “offset” or “pay for” the Israel spending, while providing no information to their readers indicating that those cuts will likely increase the deficit.
The influential Punchbowl AM newsletter reported that the Johnson bill’s Israel funding “would be paid for by cutting an equal amount from the Inflation Reduction Act’s IRS enforcement,” adding that “the House GOP leadership team considered a host of bipartisan pay-fors, but opted to cut IRS money with hopes of dividing Democrats and solidifying GOP support” and “a standalone Israel bill with offsets is a no-go for the Democratic-led Senate.”
Reuters reported that the House GOP legislation would “provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel by cutting funding for the Internal Revenue Service.”
And CBS News’ write-up claimed that “House Republicans want to pay for emergency aid to Israel by cutting funding to the IRS” and the bill would “would pay for aid to Israel by cutting the same amount in funding that was allocated to the IRS under the Inflation Reduction Act.”
Other outlets similarly privileged the House GOP’s false “offset” framing, but either acknowledged later in their report that the IRS cuts would increase the deficit or at least cited critics making that point.
The Washington Post’s article initially described the Republican bill as “a proposal to pay for emergency aid for Israel’s war against Hamas by cutting IRS funds aimed at cracking down on rich tax cheats and improving taxpayer service.” But the Post went on to provide a detailed accounting of what the IRS funding goes toward, and noted: “Using the IRS funding to offset the Israel aid might not actually save money: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had estimated in 2022 that the $80 billion IRS expansion would cut the deficit by more than $100 billion by improving collections and enforcement.”
NBC News’ article featured the subheadline “The newly minted Republican speaker is seeking to pay for aid to Israel by slashing $14.3 billion from IRS funds in the Democratic president's signature law.” But the body of the piece instead accurately described the bill as only “rescinding the same amount of IRS funding” as it included in Israel aid, and noted that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the funds will ‘increase revenues by approximately $200 billion’ over a decade.”
CNN’s write-up claimed in its second and third paragraphs that “the GOP-led bill includes the same amount in spending cuts, rescinding $14.3 billion that had been allocated to the IRS as part of the Inflation Reduction Act,” and that “Democrats are warning that the bill’s offsets could cost it passage in the House.” In paragraph 10, it cited Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) statement that “the cuts House Republicans are proposing would actually increase the deficit by curbing the IRS’ ability to go after billionaire tax cheats.”
And Semafor’s Principals newsletter led with the news that House Republicans had “unveiled a bill that would pay for $14.3 billion in assistance to Israel by slashing funding from the IRS” and that Johnson had “argued that emergency funding should be balanced by cuts elsewhere in the budget,” but later cited Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) statement opposing “reducing our tax collections by shrinking the IRS.”
It’s not impossible for outlets to get it right. Some reporters pointed out to their audiences that the GOP’s spin is deceptive rather than echoing it.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the House Republican’s bill “purports to pay for itself by rescinding $14.3 billion of the $80 billion that Congress gave to the Internal Revenue Service last year to improve the agency’s technology and enforcement,” then immediately added, “Cutting the IRS enforcement budget, in fact, would increase budget deficits by making it harder for the agency to catch tax cheats.”
Politico Playbook likewise reported that the Republican bill “not only seeks to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere but taps Democrats’ signature domestic policy legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, to do it,” but then immediately debunked that language.
“As a policy matter, reversing the bill’s IRS plus-up doesn’t make a lot of sense. Cutting the agency’s planned enforcement surge against tax evaders would have the perverse effect of increasing budget deficits, not trimming them,” it stated. “But as a political matter, the logic is impeccable: The libs, after all, were owned.”
Johnson’s first major move as speaker was to try to deceive the press (and through it, the public) in order to achieve one of his party’s long-sought objectives. His success in getting credulous reporters to adopt his spin is an ominous sign for the months ahead.