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EDITORIAL: Tax compliance no excuse for expanded snooping

Rest assured, no matter how many times President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats promise to pay for their increased spending by going after tax cheats and taxing the rich, they will eventually come hat in hand to the middle class.

The middle class is where the real money is. It’s simple math: There are a lot more people in the middle class than among the uber-rich, so taken as a group, they’re the biggest source of potential tax revenue. And Democrats will need a lot of additional revenue to pay for the laundry list of projects making up Biden’s $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan.

“Instead of wasting money on tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion for big corporations and the wealthy, we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in working America,” Biden tweeted last week, also claiming his plan adds nothing to the national debt — a claim that relies on the same “dynamic scoring” that Democrats used to mock when Republicans used it to claim tax cuts pay for themselves.

But when it comes down to stopping “tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion,” it’s not just the “big corporations and the wealthy” Biden has his eye on. It’s middle class taxpayers.

His plan comes with a host of measures making it easier for the feds to snoop on the financial transactions of Joe Sixpack.

Currently, the Bank Secrecy Act requires that banks and financial institutions report to the Internal Revenue Service all transactions of $10,000 or more. Like most laws, it does the opposite of what the name says: It actually is an abridgement on bank secrecy, but for an allegedly worthy cause. The Bank Secrecy Act was passed in 1970 to fight money laundering and has since become a weapon in the drug war.

But as part of the “Build Back Better” plan, the $10,000 reporting threshold would drop to just $600, catching almost everyone in its net. It would amount to an unprecedented level of snooping on the private financial transactions of most Americans — certainly not just the wealthy.

Alabama’s junior Republican U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville has introduced a bill that would stop the Democrats’ plan in its tracks. There’s little chance of his bill going anywhere in the 50-50 Senate, but it already has had the desired effect of shedding more light on a proposal that was already drawing unwelcome attention.

“We want everybody to pay their fair share. I’ve got no problem with that. But I don’t want the federal government, ‘big brother,’ to be harassing private citizens. I don’t want them harassing banks,” Tuberville said in introducing his bill.

And like every regulation, the new reporting requirement would favor big businesses over small businesses. Large banks would have a much easier time than smaller banks absorbing the cost of complying with the new reporting requirements, which would entail updated computers and hiring more employees just to keep track of all the reportable transactions.

Chris Latta, president of F&M Bank in Piedmont, said he and others in small financial institutions will struggle with compliance costs, while bigger banks could more likely absorb them.

“We’re a highly regulated industry, so we’re going to hire auditors to make sure that our systems are in place and our checks are in place so it’s all being done correctly,” Latta said. “So you can just imagine the expense it’s going to take to put a system in, a process and procedures in place for something of that magnitude to make sure that is being done correctly.”

Congressional Democrats are already backing away from the $600 reporting threshold, but they haven’t said what new threshold they’ll go for — or if they’ll stay with the current $10,000 one.

But there is more to Biden’s agenda, which also includes snooping on cryptocurrency transactions and transactions made via apps like PayPal and Venmo.

It all adds up to a plan for more IRS audits, not of the rich, but of the middle class. Nobody should be fooled.

– From The Madison Record’s sister publication, The Decatur Daily

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