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Will the IRS need 16,000 new agents to enforce health-care reform?


"One of the things in the health bill is 16,000 additional IRS agents," said Newt Gingrich, echoing the latest GOP talking point. Rep. Paul Ryan joined him, saying the IRS will get "16,000 agents to police this new mandate." But is it true? Well, no. gives you the rundown here, but just for kicks, let's track how an estimate becomes spin becomes a lie becomes a sound bite. First, the estimate: The CBO predicted that costs related to the Affordable Care Act would "probably include an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years for administrative costs of the Internal Revenue Service." This money, incidentally, isn't to audit people or go door-to-door enforcing the individual mandate. It's primarily to give subsidies to qualifying small businesses and individuals. But put that aside for the moment.

On March 18, the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee put out a news release saying the "IRS may need to hire as many as 16,500 additional auditors, agents and other employees." As you might expect, "may" does some heavy lifting here. First, Republicans are using $10 billion, not $5 billion, as the number beneath their estimate. Second, as says, the GOP "simply divided the spending (which they figured could be $1.5 billion per year once the law is fully effective) by the current average payroll cost for the entire IRS workforce."

In other words: No money for desks, office equipment, rent or anything else. Every possible dollar is hiring "IRS agents." And it doesn't account for annual raises. Oh, and before I forget, "agents" is also there to mislead. As notes, "there’s a huge difference between an IRS revenue agent — who calls on taxpayers and conducts face-to-face audits — and the workers who make up the bulk of IRS employees. Those who work at the IRS include clerks, accountants, computer programmers, telephone help line workers and other support staff. In fact, IRS revenue agents make up only 15 percent of the IRS workforce."

So let's go back to Gingrich's original sentence. "One of the things in the health bill is 16,000 additional IRS agents," he said. First, that's not a "thing in the health bill." It's an extrapolation from a CBO report. Second, the word "is" is wrong, as even the original GOP spin only used the word "may." Third, the number 16,000 is wrong. Fourth, the word "agents" is wrong. But if the statement gets no credit for truth, it's at least efficient: Not just anyone could pack four falsehoods into 13 words. But Gingrich, now, he's a professional.

Photo credit: By John L. Russell/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  April 8, 2010; 2:07 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: The unemployment rate and November


So you assume it may be 13-14.000 IRS employees rather than 16.000 IRS agents? If you have to pay for desks as well.

Posted by: perh | April 8, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

cost also depends on whether the new agents have to buy their own jackboots!

Posted by: bdballard | April 8, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The IRS doesn't have the Admin capacity to regulate this bill. Especially with subsidies based on monthly family income. There's no agency in the federal government capable of collecting this at this time.

I'm shocked that a politician would use hyperbole. But if you talk to officials in the IRS/SOI they'll point out that they'll need additional resources to collect the new info that will be needed. There will be a huge increase in the govt workforce and many of them will be in the IRS.

Posted by: hoo93 | April 8, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I only wish there were 16,000 more auditors and agents to capture some of the 100 billion that goes uncollected from wealthy individuals and multinational corporations...

Posted by: srw3 | April 8, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"Individuals who don’t purchase health insurance may lose their tax refunds according to IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. After acknowledging the recently passed health-care bill limits the agency’s options for enforcing the individual mandate, Shulman told reporters that the most likely way to penalize individuals that don’t comply is by reducing or confiscating their tax refunds." (from

Posted by: rmgregory | April 8, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Meh. I tune out this kind of hyperbole from both sides. This gets filed in the same category as "45,000 people die each year because we don't have HCR" and "X jobs saved or created". Both sides do it and anyone who uses these types of numbers to push a policy should be (and usually are) ignored anyways.

Posted by: philly211 | April 8, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

On the other hand, the IRS has been critically underfunded for years because they get blamed by the public for the burden of taxes when Congress is the actual party at fault. Adding 16,000 new agents would actually be a really good idea.

Posted by: etdean1 | April 8, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Since Republicans are finding great success with their endless string of complete fabrications, I've decided to change my M.O. from now on and fight fire with fire. Taking the high road and engaging their defenders with factual rebuttals accomplishes nothing because there's always another fabrication lying in wait.

So, with that in mind, where are the conservative trolls who would like to defend the Senate GOP's plan to eliminate the Medicare program by cutting doctor payments by 90%?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 8, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

@philly211: A bit of false equivalence happening here I think. Not sure what your problem with the job creation/saved statistic is, since many estimates are from mostly non partisan economists. If anything, the Obama has been underestimating the jobs created or saved because of the stimulus (given about 1/3 went to state an local govts that didn't have to lay off staff). As for the death stat, if you put in the word prematurely in front of die, then it makes sense. People die sooner without health insurance, true on an empirical and common sense level.

Posted by: srw3 | April 8, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

The keywords in the statement are "needs" and "agents". According to the White House (, the IRS will "Invests over $8 billion in the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement and modernization programs," in 2011 but most of this will be spent on "enforcement contractors" not "agents" according to .

I guess the difference between an "enforcement contractor" and an "agent" is similar to the difference between a nice shiny "peacekeeper missile" and a "bomb".

Posted by: rmgregory | April 8, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

One thing I'll grant Newt and the GOP, they have incredibly disciplined control over their talking points. They're usually false, but they make up for it with repetition from multiple quarters. It's as if they have daily instructions from some kind of central command about how to frame the debate, and they all follow their instructions faithfully.

The Democrats should develop some of their own discipline about framing and talking points. They need a daily memo sent out from some secret cadre of spin-meisters so they get better at soundbites that support their policies, and stop stumbling over their own messaging.

But this advice to the Democrats is hardly new. Pundits have been offering this type of comment for many years, the Democrats just keep blundering along.

Posted by: billkarwin | April 8, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

i never did like Newt much (with that whole thing around his wife, being sick, leaving her etc).

that being said it Dems were smart they'd realize that the exact same legislation was put forth in MA and there aren't armies of state enforcement agents there to make sure people pay the tax.

Just goes to enforce the adage that Dems aren't too bright.

Posted by: visionbrkr | April 8, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

So....does that mean Fred Hiatt's going to give Newt a regular column?

Posted by: antontuffnell | April 8, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

IRS has a problem in that 30% of its human resources are deployed doing detailed audits on the returns of folks receiing EITC ~ which, btw, runs about $58 billion per year.

The other 70% of IRS resources are devoted to tracking down the remaining $16 trillion!

I would expect nothing better than that sort of ratio to go after the 20 million young men who have no income and who are not paying their health insurance fines.

Maybe 5 divisions or something to handle this one ~ fully armed with the latest hardware ~ rolling through Bedford Sty to go after the bad guys.

Oh, yes, IRS has a surprise for the naysayers.

BTW, it's really amazing what Leftwingtards don't know about collecting taxes. It may derive from the fact that so many of them don't!

Posted by: muawiyah | April 8, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr ~ regarding Newt's ex-wife #1, she was his highschool teacher. She seduced him.

Today we'd stick the ol'gal in a prison for the duration eh!

Posted by: muawiyah | April 8, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

So you're saying that the IRS won't have to hire 16,000 new "agents" to police Obamacare. So how many new "agents" will they have to hire? I suspect it'll be in the thousands since according to Obamacare the IRS is charged with enforcing the individual mandate and there are billions of dollars in Obamacare that go to the IRS. You critizize the Republicans for the 16,000 quote so how many more IRS employees do YOU think will be needed? I suspect the reality is somewhere between your liberal undercount and the 16,000. And while you're at it how many new government workers total do you estimate will need to be hired to administer Obamacare?

Posted by: RobT1 | April 8, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

They'll need that many new agents just to deal with msoja.

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 8, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Newt? Why do we give a fig about what this guy says anymore? He's a legend in his own mind.

The media needs to stop listening to him.

Posted by: jshafham | April 8, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Personally I don't care if it's 1 new agent or 16,000 it's all the same..the government has NO right to mandate I or any other person buys something just because they were born.. end of story.. I have suggested to all they raise their dependents to the highest limit.. move all their assets to safe keeping trusts and at the end of the year it's better to owe the government.. Wait.. watch the biggest drop in monthly income to the tax department in history.. The underground economy is good enough for the illegals it's good enough for the citizens..

Posted by: lcky9 | April 8, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

It's really too bad the spineless democrats won't set the record strait. Instead we get one article that few will read but the lie will be repeated on Fox until they get a new lie.

Posted by: soapm | April 8, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: pj_camp | April 8, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your work Ezra (even if many of the comments are clearly written by people who and are not interested in honest discussion, so jarring after reading your thoughtful work).
Lying is NOT the same as hyperbole. "Both sides do it" is childish and dangerous to the polity. Why are we reading Ezra if not to try to draw distinctions, rather than being 'even-handed' and saying to hell with the lot of them because none of them is perfect.

Posted by: johnsalmond | April 8, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Aren't the republicans complaining that obama isn't doing enough about jobs? So even if you ignore the fact that what he said is false shouldn't they be happy about 16,000 new jobs? According to Newt, we really need to put a stop to all those fat-cat IRS agents making.....30K a year.

Posted by: megankeenan | April 8, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Klein trying to sell Obozzocare but I'm not sure the American public is in the buying mood.

Posted by: fenoy | April 8, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

"You critizize [sic] the Republicans for the 16,000 quote so how many more IRS employees do YOU think will be needed?"

Hmmm, let's see...close to zero.

"IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified before a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee March 25 that the IRS won’t be auditing individuals to certify that they have obtained health insurance. He said insurance companies will issue forms certifying that individuals have coverage that meets the federal mandate, similar to a form that lenders use to verify the amount of interest someone has paid on their home mortgage. "We expect to get a simple form, that we won’t look behind, that says this person has acceptable health coverage," Shulman said. "So there’s not going to be any discussions about health coverage with an IRS employee." In any case, the bill signed into law (on page 131) specifically prohibits the IRS from using the liens and levies commonly used to collect money owed by delinquent taxpayers, and rules out any criminal penalties for individuals who refuse to pay the tax or those who don’t obtain coverage."

To the extent that the new law will enlarge the IRS workforce at all, any extra employees needed would be related to processing the new tax CREDITS to individuals and businesses, NOT to enforce penalties against the very few morons who will opt to remain uninsured, since the individual "mandate" is essentially toothless.

- full story here:

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 9, 2010 1:32 AM | Report abuse

This is the same hypocrite, Newt Gingrich who himself was having an extramarital affair as he once led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hey Newt, you have zero credibility, so sit down and shaaaad up.

Posted by: Hillary08 | April 9, 2010 5:44 AM | Report abuse

Why has ol Newt been given a free pass since he climbed back out from under the bridge ? Dems and the "liberal press" need to expose him for the liar he is. Sic Rachel on him.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | April 9, 2010 5:52 AM | Report abuse

You can get full Medical Insurance coverage at the lowest price from

Posted by: latricenelia | April 9, 2010 6:04 AM | Report abuse

In legislation this massive many things are not spelled out directly, that nevertheless sensible observers think would be inevitable consequences of it. Such as rationing. This must occur just because of the medicare cuts. In the absence of any knowledge of how this will be implemented, what the transition period will look like, who EXACTLY will enforce the mandates, and how, can you be surprised that speculation arises? Should people now just shut up and let it all happen? As to Newt's personal life, is it any more tawdry than that of Peter Orszag, a man who left his wife and two young children for a wealthy woman and then, in turn, abandoned her when she had his third child, announcing his engagement to a tv anchorwoman the same month that child was born? He now has three children, not one of whom he is living with and raising.

Posted by: truck1 | April 9, 2010 6:06 AM | Report abuse

Ezra writes: "This money, incidentally, isn't to audit people or go door-to-door enforcing the individual mandate. It's primarily to give subsidies to qualifying small businesses and individuals."
Which is really just a fancy way of saying "enforcing the employer mandates"

Posted by: conn_carroll | April 9, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

@philly211: "both sides do it" is a lazy man's way of not having to think too hard or read much.

The GOP has turned lying into a highly refined art form.

Posted by: firenze_italia | April 9, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Why do you hate America?

Posted by: vinsons | April 9, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

"So let’s go back to Gingrich’s original sentence. “One of the things in the health bill is 16,000 additional IRS agents,” he said. First, that’s not a “thing in the health bill.” It’s an extrapolation from a CBO report. Second, the word “is” is wrong, as even the original GOP spin only used the word “may.” Third, the number 16,000 is wrong. Fourth, the word “agents” is wrong. But if the statement gets no credit for truth, it’s at least efficient: Not just anyone could pack four falsehoods into 13 words. But Gingrich, now, he’s a professional."

This is my favorite paragraph in The Washington Post...EVER!

Posted by: nicekid | April 9, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Today we'd stick the ol'gal in a prison for the duration eh!

Posted by: muawiyah | April 8, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

doesn't excuse what he did. There's a special place in hell for people like that.

Posted by: visionbrkr | April 9, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

"In fact, we generally, as you know, straight-line our economic forecasts after 5 years, because we don't know anything about years 6 through 10 that would inform our forecasting."

Those were the words of Dan L. Crippen, Director of the Congressional Budget Office in 2002 before the House of Representative's Committee on the Budget.

So, health care reform won't achieve its true financial benefits for at least 10 years, yet the CBO is largely incapable of making accurate forecasts beyond 5 years?

Aren't both sides fudging the numbers?

Posted by: 90percentvote | April 12, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

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