GOP senator seeks to block controversial proposed bank account monitoring

Tim Scott introduced a bill to stop the IRS from gathering new data.

October 21, 2021, 2:04 PM

In the wake of a controversial proposal by the Treasury Department and Senate Democrats to direct collection of additional data on Americans' bank accounts, Senate Republicans -- led by South Carolina’s Tim Scott -- introduced a bill Thursday to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from implementing any such policy change.

"The Democrats’ plan to allow the IRS to spy on the bank accounts of nearly every person in this country, even those below the poverty line, should be deeply concerning to anyone who values privacy and economic inclusion," Scott said in a statement provided exclusively to ABC News.

The Biden administration on Tuesday backed down on a controversial proposal that would have directed the IRS to collect additional data on every bank account that sees more than $600 in annual transactions, after widespread criticism from Republican lawmakers and banking industry representatives, who said the tax enforcement strategy represented a breach of privacy by the federal government.

Instead, the administration and Senate Democrats are proposing to raise the threshold to accounts with more than $10,000 in annual transactions, and any income received through a paycheck from which federal taxes are automatically deducted will not be subject to the reporting. Recipients of federal benefits like unemployment and Social Security would also be exempt.

According to the new GOP bill, called the Prohibiting IRS Financial Surveillance Act, "The Secretary of the Treasury (including any delegate of the Secretary) may not require any financial institution to report the inflows or outflows of any account maintained by such institution, or any balances, transactions, transfers, or similar information with respect to any such account, except to the extent that such reporting is required under any program, or other provision of law, as in effect on the date of the enactment of this Act."

"Every American should be wary of giving the IRS more power and more tentacles into private financial transactions," Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said in a statement. "The IRS bank reporting proposal is one of the biggest expansions of the agency’s authority we’ve ever seen, and is fundamentally flawed. I’m proud to support Senator Scott’s legislation to stop this proposal in its tracks and protect Americans’ personal, private financial information."

The GOP bill is sponsored by every member of Republican leadership and nearly the entire conference, a clear indication, according to a source familiar with the matter, that the party sees "this move and the unified support from leadership … as a clear indication of where we’ll focus our energies in the coming reconciliation fight."

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters following a Democratic strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington,  Oct. 19, 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters following a Democratic strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP

The changes made by Democrats -- a clear indication of how politically volatile the issue is -- would exempt millions of Americans from the reporting requirement, and help the IRS target wealthier Americans, they say, especially those who earn money from investments, real estate, and other transactions that are more difficult for the IRS to track.

"Under the current system, American workers pay virtually all their tax bills while many top earners avoid paying billions in the taxes they owe by exploiting the system. At the core of the problem is a discrepancy in the ways types of income are reported to the IRS: opaque income sources frequently avoid scrutiny while wages and federal benefits are typically subject to nearly full compliance. This two-tiered tax system is unfair and deprives the country of resources to fund core priorities," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Tuesday.

"Today’s new proposal reflects the Administration’s strong belief that we should zero in on those at the top of the income scale who don’t pay the taxes they owe, while protecting American workers by setting the bank account threshold at $10,000 and providing an exemption for wage earners like teachers and firefighters," Yellen said.

A Treasury fact sheet says, "Imagine a taxpayer who reports $10,000 of income; but has $10 million of flows in and out of their bank account. Having this summary information will help flag for the IRS when high-income people under-report their income (and under-pay their tax obligations). This will help the IRS target its enforcement activities on those who are actually evading their tax obligations—decreasing costly and burdensome audits for the vast majority of taxpayers who pay what they owe."

The proposal is a long way from being enacted. It's currently included in a multi-trillion dollar social spending package lawmakers and the White House have been negotiating for months. If that package is passed and signed into law, the requirement wouldn't begin until December 2022.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who spearheaded the effort to revise the proposal, disputed Republican claims that the goal is to snoop on Americans' financial transactions.

"The bottom line is, wealthy tax cheats are ripping off the American people to the tune of billions and billions of dollars per year. Tax cheats thrive when the reporting rules that apply to them are loose and murky. Democrats want to fix this broken approach and crack down on the cheating at the top," Wyden said in a press conference on the announcement Tuesday.

Wyden made clear that even Americans who might make a large purchase over $10,000 wouldn't be subject to the additional reporting.

PHOTO: The IRS building in Washington, D.C, Jan. 28, 2019.
The IRS building in Washington, D.C, Jan. 28, 2019.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

"If you don’t have $10,000 above your paycheck, Social Security income, or the like coming in or going out, there’s no additional reporting. We’ve also addressed the scenario where an individual spends a significant amount of savings for a major purchase. There will be no additional reporting in this scenario, as long as the amount of money coming into the account does not exceed wages +$10,000," Wyden said.

Still, Republicans insisted millions of Americans will be affected and voiced concern that the IRS would be given far too much power.

"The Biden administration’s plan to allow the IRS to monitor Americans' bank accounts is a dangerous idea that will only prove to be worse over time,” said Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa. “Today the administration wants to know your annual account inflows and outflows. What will they demand access to tomorrow?"

ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report

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