Yellen: IRS answering more phone calls with extra workers
Senators call for answers about bank failures
Also in today’s edition of ‘Regular Order’ for March 17, 2023:
GOP says to Biden, ‘Where’s your plan?’ for Social Security.
Migrant numbers drop again in February.
Feinstein’s absence delays more Biden nominees.
IRS. Americans now have one month left to file their federal tax return for 2022 - and some of those still working on their taxes might need an answer from the IRS about something. In recent years, it's been almost impossible to call the IRS tax hotline and expect a live person to answer the phone. But Biden Administration officials told Congress yesterday that's changed.
PHONES. "The response rate has gone from the 13 percent (in 2022) to around 85 percent this tax season," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at a Thursday hearing. The reason for the change is that the IRS hired 5,000 more people to answer the phones - from money approved last year by Congress.
DEMS. Democrats said the increase in the phone answering rates shows they were right to increase the IRS budget over GOP objections. "It's not perfect, but it's one heck of a lot better than it was," Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said of the customer service turnaround. “And we're just getting started.”
ARMY. The funding for the extra IRS workers is part of the over $80 billion in funding approved last year for the tax agency - over the strident opposition of Republicans. GOP lawmakers claim the money was going to hire an army of tax agents - but the goal was also to improve taxpayer services.
BANKS. The Treasury Secretary used the same hearing with Senators to express confidence in the banking system, even as there were more rumblings about unsettled financial institutions on Thursday. "I can reassure the members of the Committee that our banking system remains sound, " Yellen said.
THE FED. But a dozen Senators say they want some answers from the Federal Reserve on how it missed financial warning signs at Silicon Valley Bank. "We need answers on what happened and why they didn't act sooner," said Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN).
LETTER. "The fact that the San Francisco Fed, among other regulatory agencies, found no reason to take appropriate regulatory action or even investigate SVB further in the months, weeks, and days prior to the bank’s collapse must be addressed in a manner that restores public confidence in Fed supervision," the group wrote.
WATCHDOG. Outside groups say the Fed should not be leading this investigation - since it may be part of the problem. "President Biden should appoint a respected, nonpartisan expert without any affiliation with the Fed," said Dennis Kelleher, head of the watchdog group Better Markets.
SOCIAL SECURITY. GOP Senators used Thursday’s hearing with the Treasury Secretary to launch an interesting (and accurate) counterattack over Social Security. While President Biden put forward a new tax on high income earners in his budget to bolster the Medicare Trust Fund, there's nothing in there to help Social Security.
GOP. "Of the 4.5 trillion and taxes he has proposed, not a dime is going to shore up Social Security," said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who noted that if nothing is done, benefits could be automatically cut by 24 percent when the Trust Fund starts running short on cash in 2037. "Where is his plan?"
STRATEGY. The goal here for the GOP is simple. President Biden keeps hammering Republicans, claiming they will cut Social Security and Medicare - and the GOP is looking for a way to push back and undercut Biden's own claims by saying his plans could lead to benefit cuts.
MOST LOGICAL. No one talks about it, but the easiest pathway forward to raise more money for the Social Security Trust Fund is to have higher income earners pay additional Social Security taxes. Currently, those payroll taxes stop after you make $160,000 in a year.
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MIGRANTS. For a second straight month, the number of people apprehended while illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico declined. Two months does not make a trend, but it's still an interesting data point - especially as Republicans ramp up their attacks on the White House over border security.
NUMBERS. 154,998 people were detained by U.S. officials, down from 166,010 in February of 2022, and just a little lower than the 156,770 in January of this year. Is this just a blip? You can see the numbers at this link.
GOP. Republicans found things to worry about in those same reports. "Last month, immigration officers encountered 1,064 Chinese immigrants at the southern border — a 1,230% increase compared to January of the previous year," said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK).
DESANTIS. He's not in the race for the White House yet, but this week Gov. Ron DeSantis made clear that he is heading that way, as he ruffled a lot of feathers inside the GOP with his statements on Ukraine - as DeSantis says the fate of Ukraine is *not* a major national interest for the U.S.
COMMIES. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the switch by so many in the Republican Party to downplay the threat from Russia is really weird. DeSantis has aligned himself with Donald Trump on Ukraine. The Trump wing can't stand China - but at the same time, they soft pedal the threat from Russia.
AMERICA FIRST. Ronald Reagan certainly wouldn't recognize what's happened to the Republican Party when it comes to America's foreign policy vis a vis Russia - much more in my column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
FEINSTEIN. The absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) continues to slow the work of Democrats in the Senate when it comes to moving judicial nominees through the Senate Judiciary Committee. For the second time this month, the panel had to cancel planned votes on Thursday, unable to muster a majority to approve a series of nominations from President Biden.
DELAY. Earlier this month, the committee was able to vote out nominees who had bipartisan support, but yesterday's business meeting was simply canceled because of Feinstein's absence. The Judiciary Committee is split 11-10 in favor of Democrats - making Feinstein’s presence mandatory on party-line votes.
DI FI. The 89 year-old Feinstein has not been on Capitol Hill for a vote since mid-February. It's not clear if she will be back for the two weeks of legislative work days scheduled before lawmakers head home for an extended Easter break. She was hospitalized recently with shingles.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY. While the House and Senate are not in session today, Congress will carry on with one of the traditions of this day, as the Irish Prime Minister will have lunch with President Biden and Speaker McCarthy at the U.S. Capitol.
HISTORY. The first St. Patrick's Day lunch was the idea of Speaker Tip O'Neill, who hosted President Ronald Reagan at the Capitol in 1983. It turned into an annual event which now draws the leader of Ireland on a regular basis.
UNDERCROFT. Construction is starting this month on a new museum at the Lincoln Memorial. Or should I say, a new museum underneath the Lincoln Memorial, in what's known as the 'undercroft' - a relatively unknown 43,800 square foot area just below the famous statue at the end of the National Mall.
TOUR. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) got a tour of the Lincoln Memorial’s basement this week, which is filled with giant columns that hold up the main part of the memorial. You can see some photos in this tweet from Capito.
SPACE. The feds are going to make the unused area into a brand new museum along with exhibit space. (They could probably use a few more bathrooms down there to help the thousands of tourists who wander to that end of the Mall.)
RAP SHEET. A New York man who claimed he was at the Capitol to cover events as the editor of a Jewish newspaper, was arrested Thursday and hit with charges of assaulting a police officer and more on Jan. 6. The feds say Elliot Resnick was one of the first rioters to push through the doors to the Rotunda at 2:26 pm that day.
STOLEN. Resnick was one of the many Trump supporters who claimed without evidence that the election had been stolen in 2020. "There probably isn’t much evidence that Stalin cheated to win elections either," he wrote on Twitter.
SUNSHINE. Meanwhile, two Florida men were found guilty this week of Jan. 6 charges. One of the men jabbed a flagpole into the chest of a police officer, and then swung the flagpole and struck two other officers in the back of their heads. #BackTheBlue
MUSE OF HISTORY. March 17, 1901. On this date, the Senate approved a bill designed to crack down on 'trespassers or intruders' who were entering the Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. At this time, there was no National Park Service - so the bill directed the Secretary of War to detail troops to stop illegal hunting or destruction of 'object of curiosity' inside the park. The House never acted on the bill. It would take another two years for Congress to approve money to build a wagon road into the park.
The House next has votes on Wednesday.
The Senate returns on Tuesday.
President Biden’s daily schedule link.
If you want to say ‘thanks’ - you can buy me a cup of coffee.