The Rot and Greed Inside Fox “News”

Fox “News” is in the news because a lawsuit revealed what the company’s leaders think of their viewers, i.e. they prefer comforting lies to truth and if Fox doesn’t feed them enough comforting lies, they’ll change the channel and Fox won’t make as much money.

Brian Stelter explains (behind the Atlantic’s paywall):

The basic story of Fox News and the 2020 election is well understood. Fox’s relatively small news operation covered the vote count accurately; this coverage infuriated President D____ T____, the MAGA base, and Fox’s opinion stars; some viewers temporarily flipped to further-right outlets, such as Newsmax; and Fox panicked.

But thanks to Dominion Voting Systems, which is pursuing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox, we now know that the network’s sense of crisis was even more intense than it appeared from outside. With the case careening toward trial, a court filing [last week] revealed some of what Dominion found during the discovery process, including eye-popping messages from Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Fox’s senior management. “Getting creamed by CNN!” Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, wrote to its top executive after seeing the overnight ratings on November 8. “Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it.”

He was right. Some of Fox’s top shows began broadcasting a better story, one that its viewers did want to watch: a conspiracy-laden tale about crooked Democrats stealing an election. Dominion is arguing that Fox knew full well that [the] voter-fraud allegations were bunk, but promoted the lies anyway.

Whether or not Dominion prevails in court, and many experts believe it will, the lawsuit is already forcing an ethical reckoning over Fox’s disrespect of its audience. Hour after hour, day after day, Fox stars kept signaling to viewers that T____ might still win the election not because they thought he would, but because they were worried about their ratings. And we all witnessed the consequences on January 6….

On November 12, 2020, nearly a week after Joe Biden clinched the presidency, … Hannity pretended that the outcome was still in doubt. He said the election was not fair. He cited “outstanding votes that have yet to be counted” and “more reports of dead people voting from beyond the grave.” And, crucially, he talked at length about Dominion….

The Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich … had the audacity to tweet the truth. She wrote that “top election infrastructure officials”—including some in [the current] administration—had issued a statement saying “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

… Carlson flagged Heinrich’s tweet and told Hannity, “Please get her fired.” Why? Because her minor Twitter fact-check of an out-of-control president was exactly the sort of thing that Fox’s fan base could not stand to see.

It needs to stop immediately, like tonight,” Carlson wrote. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Hannity replied and said he had already sent the accurate and thus offending tweet to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott.

Sean texted me,” Scott wrote to two colleagues…. Scott was bothered too. She worried that reporters at other outlets would notice Heinrich’s tweet: “She has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted”….

The new legal filing by Dominion is such a showstopper [because] we can read exactly what the leaders and stars of Fox News really think. This is my biggest takeaway: In the days after Biden won the election, while T____ tried to start the steal by shouting “Stop the Steal,” the most powerful people at Fox News were not concerned about [informing their audience or] the health of U.S. democracy. They were concerned about Fox’s brand and their own bottom line.

Stelter has talked to people at Fox:

A senior staffer at Fox railed against the network’s journalists and math wizards who had called Arizona for Biden, calling them “arrogant fucks”.

[A] former morning-show producer told me, “We were deathly afraid of our audience leaving, deathly afraid of pissing them off.”

A veteran staffer [said] “I feel like Fox is being held hostage by its audience”…

Sources at Fox [have] told me to think of it not as a network per se, but as a profit machine. They feared doing anything that would disrupt the machine. 

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, also describes Fox “News” as a “machine”:

The latest filing by Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation suit against Fox nails something critics have long argued for. Fox is not a news organization. It’s something else. But what is this thing? I will try to answer that.

The Dominion suit establishes that Fox stars (like Tucker Carlson) and executives (like CEO Suzanne Scott) were fearful and enraged when some of their own people blundered into delivering a true and accurate report about the 2020 election. Think about that. When its own talent reported the facts truthfully, the result was a company crisis….

If Fox is not a news organization … and it is not “opinion” either (because the Dominion filing shows the hosts are frightened to share their real opinions) then what is it, exactly? Some common answers: It’s entertainment. It’s propaganda. No, it’s just ratings.

[It’s] the commercial arm of a political movement that has taken control of the Republican Party. The product is resentment news. Current ways to resent. Success in that market makes for political power. [It’s] a kind of machine.

By “machine” I mean to evoke both the manufacture of politicized grievance for fun and profit, and the kind of machine through which Richard Daley rose to power in mid 20th century. A machine in the sense of the Cook County Democratic Machine. Again: not a news organization.

Dominion’s filings describe a time when the audience took charge of the resentment machine. Power traded hands for a bit. Viewer backlash from a correct call in Arizona felt ruinous. Stars with shows and executives nominally in charge of Fox saw how weak their positions were.

Fox has to accept that its powers are limited. The Fox audience can veto events that in the rest of the world unquestionably occurred. You’re not a news organization if your audience’s refusal to accept what happened prevents [you from telling them] what happened.

Both the Republican Party and Murdoch’s fear-and-loathing machine know they cannot control the core audience for commercialized resentment and white nationalism, which will turn on anyone who interferes in the free exercise of its many hatreds.

We are faced with a vicious circle. There is an audience for right-wing fake news. Fox cultivates that audience by giving it fake news. That makes the audience want more fake news. So that’s what Fox gives them. We might think that Fox’s audience will shrink when they realize they’re being lied to and otherwise manipulated. But since they get their news from Fox “News”, they’ll probably never hear about it and won’t believe it if they do.

The Good News About Social Security

Democrats created Social Security in 1937 over the usual Republican opposition. People with jobs put money in while they work and take money out (usually more than they put in) when they retire. The program has been in the news lately because President Biden pointed out that at least one leading Republican had suggested Social Security and all other government programs should cease to exist every year unless the president and Congress agreed to renew them in some form or other (he seems to have backed away from that position after more people heard about it).

Since Social Security and its finances are a big deal, it helps to know the truth. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains:

Political reporters remain way behind when it comes to seeing through the flimflam of Republicans’ schemes to cut or dismantle Social Security. [Too often,] press accounts of the financing of the program [aare] trapped in Republican talking points. In X number of years, we hear again and again, Social Security will become “insolvent.”

But this isn’t true. At best, it’s a totally misleading way to describe how the federal government pays for things.

Social Security and Medicare are funded (almost entirely) by a payroll tax of approximately 15% on wage and salary income up to a statutory cap, which currently stands at $160,200. That tax is split between the employer and the employee. It funds the two programs. A couple generations ago, Congress increased the tax to build up a surplus to pay for the benefits of the Baby Boom generation. That’s the “trust fund.” Social Security “lent” that extra money to the rest of the federal government, i.e., it purchased government bonds. Eventually the Trust Fund will run out of bonds to cash in. The current estimate is that it will happen in the mid-2030s. This is when Social Security supposedly becomes “insolvent.”

But that’s a meaningless term. The federal government has to pay its promised benefits. If they can’t all be paid out of payroll taxes, the remainder can and will be paid out of general revenues. This was actually the assumption about what would eventually happen back when the program was founded almost a century ago. (Look it up.)

This doesn’t mean it’s a non-issue. It means there will be a funding gap and that’s a budgetary issue to be resolved. It’s not “insolvent.” That’s just scare talk. Now, how can the funding gap be resolved? You could just pay the remainder out of general revenue (the general tax base of income, corporate, capital gains and other taxes that are not tied to any specific program). But there’s another more straightforward approach: just rejigger the payroll tax.

You could simply raise the payroll rate. But that’s a bad idea….Payroll taxes are really regressive. You’re paying about 7.5% on the first dollar you make up to $160,200. No deductions or anything. Every dollar. Most economists would say you’re actually also paying the employer side too because that’s money that goes to the cost of employing people that would otherwise go to the employee. So there’s a good argument that low- and middle-income workers are paying a flat tax of 15% on every dollar they make. It makes no sense to raise that rate. The simpler and more equitable solution is just to raise the cap.

It gets raised every year by a calculus tied to cost of living and related measures… But I mean raise it to a higher level, beyond the annual increase. There are various ways to do this. You can just raise the number from $160k to say $200k or $250k. Or, perhaps more equitably, you could leave the cap at $160k and have it kick in again starting at $500k. That way you put most of the burden on very high income earners.

Obviously there are a limitless number of ways you can do this. The point is that there are really basic budgetary changes that solve the problem — the problem being that there is a larger share of retirees to younger workers. (Another way to help with this problem is to welcome more working-age immigrants.)

Of course, you could just start cutting benefits — as Republicans want to do. But that’s a values question more than an economics one. Who should carry the burden of this shortfall, seniors on fixed incomes or the people getting rewarded most in the current economy? Income inequality is a key part of this equation on every front, both as a matter of equity and adjusting Social Security finances and because rising income inequality has itself weakened Social Security financing. As more income has been pushed into the higher tax brackets, more income has been removed from the Social Security tax base.

The global point is that there’s no “insolvency” or “bankruptcy.” That makes the whole thing sound like some looming crisis, which it’s not.

For example, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed changes that would keep Social Security fully funded for 75 years (and increase benefits).

More from Mr. Marshall:

Since we’re talking about whether Social Security survives for future generations, we should start with understanding the various ways the program’s foes propose to limit or get rid of it. Since Social Security is one of America’s most popular government programs, virtually no one says they want to get rid of Social Security…. Plans to cut it or phase it out entirely are almost all framed as ways to “improve it” or “save” it….

For years, the Republican policy of choice was converting Social Security into a 401k-like system of private accounts. This was billed as a way to avoid the program’s inevitable “bankruptcy” and make it “better”…. This is what President Bush tried and failed to do in 2004 and 2005. There’s nothing wrong with a 401k….But it’s not Social Security. [A] 401k places the risk on the individual rather than socializing the risk, which is the heart of what social insurance [like] Social Security is….

The other approach Republicans look toward is to leave the structure of the program more or less as it is and just reduce the benefits. There are three different ways benefit cuts are usually proposed…

The first is simply to increase the age of eligibility [since] people live longer than they did when the program was first created… Regardless, it’s still a cut. Fewer years of eligibility means fewer total dollars you receive. It also means needing to work longer [note: which is fine for people in Congress but not so great if you work in construction or some other physically taxing job].

The second approach is to change the formula that determines the annual increases that allow security benefits to keep up with the cost of living… There is actually some real debate about whether the current cost of living formula is the most “accurate” way to calculate cost of living and purchasing power. It’s highly, highly technical, but the technical issues are mostly beside the point… It’s still a cut from the current formula. A beneficiary in 2060 will get a smaller check than they would have with the current system…

The third broad category is what’s called “means testing”. You save money by seeing how much people really need the money when they retire. Advocates of this approach point out that Bill Gates doesn’t need his Social Security check….In practice, of course, [means testing would have] to apply to a lot more people than  Bill Gates… Otherwise you’re not saving any money….

This very broad overview leaves out a lot of detail, and not just technicalities. Social Security supports a lot of people across the age spectrum [including the disabled], not just retirees. Because my mother died when I was a child, my father (or whoever had been my legal guardian) received Social Security checks to support the costs of raising me until I turned 18….

No one is going to argue with “making Social Security better”. But it’s hard to see how cutting benefits make it better….The only way you can make the argument that cuts make Social Security “better” is if you start with the claim that it’s currently “going bankrupt.” But it’s not.

And one last thing:

Despite the fact that Republicans have been demanding cuts and a phase-out for years and despite the fact they will continue to do so after the current burst of media attention abates, they are now demanding that President Biden not say what their policy is….Indeed, what’s especially weird is how many Republicans can’t help restating their demand for cuts [such as increasing the age of eligibility and means testing] even while denying their demand for cuts….

What To Do About Right-Wing Rural Voters (and Others)

“Can Anything Be Done To Assuage Rural Rage?” That was the title of Paul Krugman’s NY Times column on Thursday. He described the problem but wasn’t sure how to solve it. On Friday, Brian Beutler made a suggestion in his Big Tent newsletter. First, some of Krugman:

Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism. As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas… But is this shift permanent? Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?

The answer will depend on two things: whether it’s possible to improve rural lives and restore rural communities, and whether the voters in these communities will give politicians credit for any improvements that do take place.

Katherine Cramer, the author of The Politics of Resentment … attributes rural resentment to perceptions that rural areas are ignored by policymakers, don’t get their fair share of resources and are disrespected by “city folks”.

As it happens, all three perceptions are largely wrong….

The truth is that ever since the New Deal rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which [in 2020] accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.

In terms of resources, major federal programs disproportionately benefit rural areas, in part because such areas have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare. But even means-tested programs — programs that Republicans often disparage as “welfare” — tilt rural. Notably, at this point rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.

And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes; they support economies: Government and the so-called health care and social assistance sector each employ more people in rural America than agriculture, and what do you think pays for those jobs?

What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?

So the ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.

Ironically, however, the policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on….

But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities. They are, in practice, a form of the “place-based industrial policy” some economists have urged to fight America’s growing geographic disparities….

But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit?

Prof. Krugman is skeptical. Brian Beutler is too. But he has a suggestion:

By certain measures, we’re living through a brighter morning in America than the younger half of the population has ever experienced. Not by all measures. [But] unemployment has never been lower. The inflation crisis you heard so much about wasn’t imaginary, but it was more than offset for most workers by higher wages, and in any case, it appears to have ended months ago. A greater percentage of Americans have health insurance than ever before. And the economy is poised for huge investments in domestic manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy. 

Plug it all into some of the tidier theories of American politics, and you’d expect us to be living through an era of calm and good feeling, a fallow season for demagogues who fan mass grievances for personal enrichment and political gain.

And yet…. Right-wing madness doesn’t seem to have receded, at least as a temptation for Republican politicians….The reality of our strong economy has not defined perceptions of it, which have tended to resemble doom-laced political reporting and outright propaganda, rather than raw data gathered by government agencies and other researchers. A huge percentage of Americans believes that the country is in the midst of a recession. Inflation remained a major, stated concern for voters long after prices had stabilized….

The prevailing orthodoxy continues to hold that the best way to head off a MAGA takeover runs through the pocketbooks of Republican voters, or by conceding to their cultural grievances….

What if elections were instead about the things that most disgust voters about Republicans? The things that just cost Republicans so dearly in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere? What if the best way to defeat the fascist threat isn’t with a bottom-up approach of deradicalization-through-industrial-policy, but a top-down approach of exposing and revolting against the GOP’s corrupt, medieval politics? Or at least, why not try both?

… In a world where concerted messaging can persuade most people that a good economy is actually bad, and where issue salience is often a function of passing propaganda campaigns and media fixations, it’s … strange to assume that Republican-coded cultural issues are the only ones that might preoccupy voters ahead of an election. Especially after 2022. I think we have enough experience by now to understand what MAGA really is, and how to make Republican politicians regret clothing themselves in it.

Back in 2015 and 2016 the centrist political establishment … were at pains to explain the effect D____ T____ had on his rallygoers—the way they’d thrill to his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and others—as an artifact of their “economic anxiety.” Journalists needed a way to explain what everyone was seeing without appearing biased against Republicans. Conservatives wanted to paper over the pathologies of the GOP base for brand-management purposes. Progressives wanted to go to bat for the salutary effects of egalitarian economic policy.

I had this gag at the time that admittedly got a bit out of hand, where a T____ supporter, rich or poor, would do something capital-D Deplorable on camera, and I’d say he was simply anxious about wage competition from low-skilled immigrants or whatever. Point is, it was clear even then that the appeal was the fascism itself… Voters don’t dislike Democrats for principally economic reasons. They prefer Republicans because they are swamped with right-wing rhetoric and ideas and lies that they find appealing or presume to be true, and the best way to disrupt that dynamic is to alter the informational stew with new ingredients.

The principal reason to build a more egalitarian polity is that you think it’s important for people to lead fulfilling and secure lives….. If you want people to embrace the promise of liberal democracy, you have to persuade them of its inherent virtues, not fatten their wallets and hope they can be made to believe the extra cash came from liberalism. If you want voters to abandon politicians who are corrupt, dishonest, menacing, you have to convince them that their corruption and dishonesty and menace outweighs anything else about them that might seem appealing. You have to put real effort into making their fundamental faithlessness a liability for them. And we know voters will respond to that effort, because they just did [in the 2022 election].

Problems and Solutions: A Brief Recitation

As 2022 fades away, David Rothkopf, an author and political analyst, presents a few facts to keep hold of in 2023:

Decades of research have conclusively shown that:

–The solution for homelessness is building homes for those who need them

–The solution for poverty is giving money to those who don’t have it

–The solution to our lack of mental health care is providing mental health care for those who need it

–The solution is to the climate crisis to stop using fossil fuels and stop carbon emissions.

I could go on. The point is that very often the solutions are obvious and politics is the art of obscuring them, distracting from them, making those common sense solutions impossible to achieve.

This May Be the Most Disgusting, Disheartening Thing You Read Today

(Or maybe the second most, since you might read about the fascists and semi-fascists on Fox News and elsewhere attacking Ukraine’s president and being celebrated for doing so on Russian TV.)

For most of us, the company or organization we work for reports our income directly to the government. We’re responsible for accurately reporting deductions and so on and that’s almost always the end of the story. If you’re a certain former president, you can arrange your personal business in such a complex way — making your one company look like 400 or 500 of them — that the I.R.S. will throw up its hands and let you get away with financial murder.

His 2016 and 2017 tax returns show the result.

He claims he lost $32 million more than he earned in 2016. The alternative minimum tax for high income taxpayers still would have resulted in a tax bill of roughly $2 million, but he just so happened to have the same $2 million in tax credits. His total income tax for 2016: $750.

For 2017, his claimed losses were $13 million more than his income. The alternative minimum tax would have been $7 million, but he again had the same amount of credits. The result again: his total income tax was $750.

The New York Times has an explanation:

Before [what’s his name] became president and after, his exceedingly complex and voluminous tax returns came under regular scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. The number of agents assigned to the audit team: one.

After he left office, the I.R.S. said it was beefing up the audit team, to three. The tax agency itself acknowledged that it was still overwhelmed by the complexity of [his] finances and the resistance mounted by the former president and his sophisticated army of accountants and lawyers, which included a former I.R.S. chief counsel and raised questions early last year about why even three revenue agents should be assigned to audit him.

“With over 400 flow-thru returns reported on [his] Form 1040, it is not possible to obtain the resources available to examine all potential issues,” I.R.S. agents said … in an internal memo … released by the House Ways and Means Committee this week….

The committee reports released this week highlight how depleted the I.R.S. has become in the last decade, as Republicans starved it of funding. They also show how the agency has become increasingly unable to crack down on wealthy taxpayers who push the legal limits to lower their tax bills and have the means to fend off audits if they get caught.

That has led to a $7 trillion “tax gap” of revenue over a decade that is owed but goes uncollected, in many cases from superrich taxpayers such as [him], who has boasted that he fights to pay as little tax as possible. [The I.R.S. is unable to] match the capacity of an industry dedicated to tax minimization and avoidance.

The agency’s … enforcement staff has fallen by over 30 percent since 2010, and audits of millionaires have declined by more than 70 percent. Its budget has declined by nearly 20 percent, when accounting for inflation, during the last decade.

Republicans have for years accused the I.R.S. of political bias and unfairly targeting conservatives. For that reason [no, the article should say “claiming that is the reason”], they have fought to cut the agency’s funding or, in some cases, called to abolish it altogether.

The spending package that Congress is voting on this week reduces the base funding levels for the I.R.S. by $275 million to $12.32 billion, which Republicans hailed as a victory. However, that does not account for the $80 billion in supplemental funding that the I.R.S. was granted through the Inflation Reduction Act this year to buttress its resources over the next decade and hire more than 80,000 agents and staff members. The Biden administration has broad discretion over how and when to deploy that money to modernize the agency and bolster its enforcement capacity.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the I.R.S., is planning to use some of those funds to hire more auditors who can tackle complicated tax returns.

Charles P. Rettig, who was appointed as I.R.S. commissioner by [the ex-president] and left the post last month, …  suggested in an email to The New York Times that the additional funding the agency is receiving will help it undertake such complex examinations.

“I.R.S. desperately needs additional specialized examiners and related support to conduct additional meaningful examinations of complex individual returns involving partnerships and tiered arrangements of partnerships and similar pass-through entities, foreign transactions, complex financial arrangements and similar,” Mr. Rettig said….

The Biden administration has emphasized its ambitions of modernizing the antiquated technology at the I.R.S. and improving its customer service. In an August memo laying out how the money would be deployed, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the agency would be focused on cracking down on rich tax dodgers and big companies that have long evaded paying what they owe to the federal government.

She also promised that middle-class households would not face more onerous scrutiny and that their audit rates would not rise. “These investments will not result in households earning $400,000 per year or less or small businesses seeing an increase in the chances that they are audited relative to historical levels,” Ms. Yellen wrote. “Instead, they will allow the I.R.S. to work to end the two-tiered tax system, where most Americans pay what they owe, but those at the top of the distribution often do not.”

The revelations about [the I.R.S. not properly auditing the ex-president’s returns] laid bare the difficulty that the I.R.S. has had in auditing the rich. The former president proved to be particularly uncooperative, as his team failed to provide facts needed to resolve certain issues and threatened to protest or appeal the process….

The report suggested that as the I.R.S. tried to work its way through [his] maze of tax returns, revenue agents [took] for granted that the assertions made by [his] accounting firm were true. Michael J. Graetz, the deputy assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department from 1990 to 1991, said the acquiescence of the I.R.S. to big accounting firms was striking…..

An agency memo that was recounted in the report described an audit team manager laying out the daunting nature of [the ex-president’s] returns.

“This return has about 400 flow-through returns reported on Schedule E and, since some of these are tiered, report a total of about 500 flow-through returns,” the auditor said. Underscoring the need for more resources, the memo went on to say that to “do a thorough review of these returns, we would need a team much larger than the current team.”

However, as you would expect:

The funds for the I.R.S. are expected to become one of the first big fights in Congress next year when Republicans take control of the House, as Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is seeking to become speaker, signaled in September.

“On that very first day that we’re sworn in, you’ll see that it all changes,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Because on our very first bill, we’re going to repeal 87,000 I.R.S. agents. Our job is to work for you, not go after you.” In November, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, [declared:] “I think we ought to fight an epic, knock-down, drag-out fight over stopping the Democrats from funding 87,000 new I.R.S. agents…”