Networks Fret Over IRS Budget Cuts, No Mention of Ongoing Scandal

On Monday, all three network morning shows found time to worry about IRS budget cuts meaning fewer audits and longer wait times for taxpayer assistance, but not one mentioned the ongoing scandal embroiling the agency, including Congress issuing a criminal referral for former IRS official Lois Lerner. [Listen to the audio]

On ABC's Good Morning America, news anchor Amy Robach warned: "More tax evaders could slip through the cracks this year....we are learning the IRS will have the fewest agents auditing returns since the 1980s due to budget cuts and new IRS responsibilities." On Friday, ABC's World News covered the same story – while ignoring the House Ways and Means Committee calling for Lerner's prosecution.

On Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie described the reduction in audits as "good news," but cautioned: "...beware, cutbacks also mean taxpayer services are taking a hit. Which means if you have to call the IRS, you're probably going to be waiting on the phone a long time."

CBS This Morning brought on business analyst Jill Schlesinger to offer a full report on the topic: "1.4 million folks were audited last year. That is the lowest level since 2005 and it has a lot to do with the budget cuts that we've seen at the IRS. We've seen the budget slashed by about 8% from 2010. So really deep cuts there."

Like Guthrie, This Morning co-host Gayle King saw the lack of audits as a positive: "What's the downside of the budget cuts? Because to hear that there are going to be less audits does not seem like a downside."

Schlesinger emphasized the reduction in taxpayer services:

The downside is, if you need service, you're in trouble. The IRS gets a hundred million phone calls, okay? That's just astounding. And of those phone calls, only 61% of people got through. That's down dramatically. 87% got through ten years ago. How about the average hold time? You call the IRS, your average hold time, it's 17.6 minutes. Ten years ago, it was 2.6 minutes.

At the end of the segment, Schlesinger lamented the unlikelihood of the IRS budget being increased: "And you know what? The funny thing is that the President is trying to argue for an increase to the IRS budget. And he's arguing for a 10% increase in that budget. Do you know what the chances are of that going through? I'm going to guess. Okay, zero."

Schlesinger didn't bother connecting the dots between IRS corruption and Congress being unwilling to increase the tax agency's budget.

Similarly, the ABC, NBC, and CBS Sunday shows all skipped the latest developments in the IRS scandal.

Here is a full transcript of Schlesinger's April 14 report:

7:33 AM ET

NORAH O'DONNELL: Now to taxes. Just one day left before this year's tax filing deadline, but now the IRS says your chance of an audit is lower than it's been in years after nearly $1 billion in budget cuts in 2010. CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger is with us. Jill, good morning.

JILL SCHLESINGER: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Taxing the IRS; Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Audits, Less Help]

O'DONNELL: So with fewer dollars and fewer people at the IRS, who are they going to target?

SCHLESINGER: They're going after the wealthier taxpayers. So if you make more than a million bucks, your chance of an audit is at 11%. If it's over $200,000, 3.3%. But for everyone else, it's actually less than 1%. In fact, 1.4 million folks were audited last year. That is the lowest level since 2005 and it has a lot to do with the budget cuts that we've seen at the IRS. We've seen the budget slashed by about 8% from 2010. So really deep cuts there.

GAYLE KING: What's the downside of the budget cuts? Because to hear that there are going to be less audits does not seem like a downside.

SCHLESINGER: I know, you're sort of like, "Woo hoo!" Okay, how about-

KING: And I'm a taxpaying citizen, too.  

SCHLESINGER: Yes, and proud and patriotic.

KING: Yes, all of that.

SCHLESINGER: The downside is, if you need service, you're in trouble. The IRS gets a hundred million phone calls, okay? That's just astounding. And of those phone calls, only 61% of people got through. That's down dramatically. 87% got through ten years ago. How about the average hold time? You call the IRS, your average hold time, it's 17.6 minutes. Ten years ago, it was 2.6 minutes.

CHARLIE ROSE: So, what does it-

KING: And they say, "Your call is important to us."

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, I know it.

KING: I love that line.

ROSE: So what should one do if they're having trouble getting in touch with the IRS and they have serious questions?

SCHLESINGER: Well, I think the first thing is, you have to go to the website. And it is a robust website. They've got a searchable, very good site there.

Now, if you are a taxpayer and you really need help, there is a program that I want to talk about. It's called VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. This is geared towards folks who make less than $52,000 a year, disabled people, people who may not speak English as their first language. The VITA program is very helpful. People should seek it out. And, of course, be patient if you're gonna call.

O'DONNELL: And of course there would be less phone calls if they would just simplify the tax code.

SCHLESINGER: Well, there's that problem, too. I mean, the tax code has actually gone crazy.

And you know what? The funny thing is that the President is trying to argue for an increase to the IRS budget. And he's arguing for a 10% increase in that budget. Do you know what the chances are of that going through? I'm going to guess. Okay, zero.

So we would expect that you're going to wait longer and you'll have to really be patient.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, Jill. Good to see you.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.