Call it further proof that America is trapped in a doom-loop of oligarchy. Whereas poor people have no lobbyists in Washington, America’s billionaires never have a problem being heard. In our brave new world where money is speech, they are the only ones being heard at all, so the system has begun to reflect some highly skewed priorities. For example, contradicting centuries of legal tradition, the Treasury Department has quietly begun targeting taxpayers for their parents’ debts, most of which are due to public assistance program overpayment errors made decades ago.
(Mary) Grice filed suit against the Social Security Administration in federal court in Greenbelt this week, alleging that the government violated her right to due process by holding her responsible for a $2,996 debt supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number.
Social Security officials told Grice that six people — Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew — had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.
The Federal Trade Commission, on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.” But Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children’s money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred.
According to the Washington Post, the Treasury Department has frozen some $1.9 billion in tax returns this year in order to collect these old debts. In a stark contrast, American corporations have stashed roughly one thousand times that much money in overseas accounts, and the richest American citizens have hidden an astonishing $32 trillion in overseas accounts, but efforts to pass legislation dealing with these tax cheaters have always met stiff resistance in Congress. There is a substantial policy infrastructure dedicated to canceling the estate tax and thus enlarging the federal deficit by $200 billion, but when Ms. Grice gets hit with her father’s debts, those think tanks and lobbyists are all out to lunch. When a millionaire cattle rancher owes two decades of grazing fees, the entire right wing noise machine goes to war for him, but the chances that Fox News will even notice Ms. Grice’s story are between slim and none.
In fact, the IRS’s penny-pinching strategy of intergenerational debt probably appeals to right wing activists who want social welfare programs severely cut, if not zeroed out completely, on the Paul Ryan austerity model. Schemes to reclaim public funds from “welfare queens” excite them. Those same right wing activists have been pushing a fake IRS “targeting” scandal for years to forestall accountability at billionaire-funded “dark money” organizations — fraudulent conservative nonprofits that provide “wingnut welfare” for otherwise-unemployable conservative activists, making a mockery of the social welfare purpose Congress had in mind for these organizations when it wrote the laws.
In an oligarchy, accountability, like taxes, is only for the little people.