By Andrea Shalal
LUSAKA, Zambia (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Sunday that rebuilding the Internal Revenue Service would be one of her top priorities in the coming years, placing her in direct opposition to the Republicans who have taken control of took over the House of Representatives.
Yellen told Reuters in an interview on her way to Zambia that she was thrilled that Congress had approved $80 billion in new funding to help the agency clear a huge backlog of tax returns and better hunt for $600 billion in unpaid tax bills.
She said she decided to stay on as Treasury Secretary largely to oversee the implementation of legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which included IRS funding and was passed by the party last year.
Yellen lobbied hard for the additional funding to help the IRS deal with what she called massive problems, including a “massive backlog” in processing tax returns and a lack of staff to conduct complicated checks on higher-income taxpayers.
“I’m excited about the legislation that’s been passed and I want to make sure it makes the difference it’s supposed to make, and that includes the IRS,” she said. “That desk needs to be completely redesigned, and that’s a big task.”
Republicans unsuccessfully tried to strip tens of billions in IRS funding from the law.
The law also includes about $270 billion in tax credits for electric vehicles, home solar panels and other climate purchases that the Treasury Department will oversee, making Yellen a central climate figure in President Joe Biden’s administration.
“I want to see that work progress. Maybe it’s not the sexiest kind of stuff in the world, but I think if you want to make a difference in the world you have to have the follow up,” she said.
Yellen, 76, admitted that the divided Congress reduced the chances of passing legislation to advance Biden’s agenda, but said she still enjoyed the job.
Her decision to stay ended months of speculation that she would step aside midway through Biden’s four-year term.
“This is probably the last job I will have,” Yellen said. I’d much rather do this than knit sweaters at home, or whatever you do when you’re retired.”
And yes, she learned to knit in college and even knitted a “nice tennis sweater” for her husband, Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof.
Something she’s not looking forward to? When asked about the debate with Congress on raising the debt ceiling, Yellen simply puts her hand to her forehead and sighs.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chris Reese)