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Treasury Department issues “cry for help”
Apr 18, 2022
Episode 644

Treasury Department issues “cry for help”

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And a gentle reminder: Don't be a jerk.

Today is Tax Day, the deadline for filing taxes (or an extension, gulp). To mark the occasion, the Treasury Department called on Congress to relieve some of the pressure on an underfunded, understaffed and ill-equipped IRS. Tens of millions of Americans are waiting for their tax returns to be processed … from the last year. We’ll also discuss speculation about how big the Federal Reserve’s next interest rate hike might be. And a gentle reminder following a federal judge’s ruling striking down the CDC’s public transportation mask mandate: Don’t be a jerk. We wrap up with some Make Me Smiles about accessing banned books and a story about an interstellar visitor.

Here’s everything we talked about on the show today:

Do you have a story about a delayed return from the IRS? Email us at makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voice message at 508-827-6278, or 508-U-B-SMART.

Make Me Smart April 18, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, but that’s a whole different podcast. That’s a whole different podcast. Not the one we’re about to do. Hey everybody, I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, making today make sense is what we do now that I am out of isolation. Oh my god. Oh my god.

Amy Scott: Yay. And I’m Amy Scott. I’m back in for Kimberly Adams. It’s Monday. Thanks for joining us. So that means we’re going to talk about today’s news and end on some Make Me Smiles to get your week going. Kai what you got today?

Kai Ryssdal: So I’ve got two things, one of which is a no brainer. But I feel obliged to mention just in the spirit of keeping people informed and and good civic behavior, and then the other ones real. So number one. So as everybody has probably heard already, a federal judge down in Florida has ruled that the CDC’s mask mandate is illegal, the CDC overstepped its authority. And thus the mask mandate is no longer valid, about which two things. Number one, don’t be a jerk. Leave your mask on on the airplane, until the FAA and the federal government hand down rules and regulations for how this is going to go. Just because this judge ruled, it doesn’t mean that it instantaneously happens. That’s number one, don’t be a jerk.  And number two is, don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. That’s it. That’s it. You’re just –  I mean, honestly, honestly, I just got off, you know, 18 hours worth of airplanes coming back from spring break, and it was completely miserable. And I get it wearing a mask. But I’m thinking of flight attendants of the crews and everybody and your fellow passengers who might want to be masked, just don’t be a jerk. Just roll with it for another day or two. They’ll figure it out.

Amy Scott: Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: Okay. So that’s number one. Number two is the story from Bloomberg and much more substantive. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, his name is James Bullard. He said today that it’s entirely possible that the Federal Reserve might have to, might have to raise interest rates, which we know they’re going to do in their main meeting, which is may three and four might have to raise interest rates, not 50 basis points, that is to say, half percent, half percentage point, but 75 basis points, three quarters of 1%. So this is now the Fed coming out and being really hawkish really concerned about inflation, I actually don’t think that Powell is going to go three quarters of a percentage point, because then I think the feces hits the rotating oscillating device, and the markets will just plotz. Well, I get in trouble when I swear on this podcast, I think they’re gonna stay at fifty –

Amy Scott:  It’s a family show.

Kai Ryssdal: It is a family show. That’s right, we don’t want that ‘E’  they’re going to stay at a half percentage point. And then maybe they’re going to talk about three quarters of a percentage point for next time. In other words, the meeting after this upcoming one. Because look, inflation is real, and eight and a half percent. And people are rightly worried and concerned both politically as the Biden administration should be, but also just straight up economically as everybody in America understands. So the Fed is talking the talk, I don’t think they’re gonna do it this time. But I think 75 basis points could be on the table later in the summer. That’s my two cents.

Amy Scott: Kai, I don’t know if you know this, but has 75 been done in a single meeting before? Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: I mean, Greenspan’s done it…

Amy Scott: It was no more than 50, in, yeah, in the 90s, or something. Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: Right. Greenspan did it in 94. It would be unusual, it would be absolutely unusual. And that’s part of the reason they’re not going to do it with no notice. Right. Jay Powell has been extremely clear. Powell has been saying the whole time, “we are going to tell you exactly what we’re going to do. Then we’re going to do it. Everybody remain calm.” Right. So that’s why they’re not going to go 75 basis points. It’s not for sure. I mean, I bet ya a paycheck.

Amy Scott: All right. You heard it here.

Kai Ryssdal: Maybe. We’ll see.

Amy Scott: You know, I was – just to go back to the mask thing. I was on a plane last night from Tampa, where this decision came down. And, and I would say mask compliance was 100%. And I imagine today it was a little more difficult for those flight attendants.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Well, look, I will go with what the senior producer of this podcast, Bridget Bodnar said at one point in the not too distant past, which is who’s gonna fly without a mask on an airplane now? Because every time you fly, I mean, I probably a third of the time that I fly, I get off the plane with a cold. Right.

Amy Scott: Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: And so, you know…

Amy Scott I remember those days before COVID.

Kai Ryssdal: I know. I know. And unless it’s like a super long, you know, transatlantic flight or transcontinental flight, suck it up for three, four or five hours. You know, if you need to go in the bathroom, right, your face, take your mask off, blah, blah, blah. I just think it’s smarter. But that’s just me. That’s just me. What do you got?

Amy Scott: Okay, well, it’s Tax Day you may have be aware. So in honor of filing the first ever extension in my taxpaying life, I thought I’d talk a little about the IRS, which is…

Kai Ryssdal: A ha!

Amy Scott: Yeah, which is struggling, we should say, the Tre-asury Department put out a really interesting statement today. I don’t know if you saw this. It was basically a cry for help. And Natasha Sarin, who’s the counselor for Tax Policy and Implementation at the Treasury, basically said, the IRS is chronically underfunded, massively understaffed, struggling with antiquated technology. And all this is happening at a time when its responsibilities have only increased during the pandemic, because as you know, they were the ones sending out three rounds of stimulus checks and advanced child tax credit payments. And because of all this, this official says the IRS began this tax season with tens of millions of returns, still unprocessed from last year. And I don’t know about you, but if any of our listeners are waiting for their refund from last year, I’d be really interested to know that.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, no joke, right? Seriously. Yeah, cray cray.

Amy Scott: That’s a lot. And of course, you know, that’s money that people could be using right now, speaking for myself. So this thing is just full of interesting tidbits, like the fact that it takes the average Estonian five minutes to file a return, whereas here in the United States, it’s 13 hours. Or that the difference between what taxpayers owe and what the IRS actually collects is estimated to be about $600 billion a year. And almost a third of that is owed by the richest 1% of Americans. And so this is basically a plea by the government for the funding that the Biden administration has asked Congress for $80 billion dollars over ten years to modernize the IRS. Republicans have been really reluctant to give more money to the agency. I mean, historically, but especially after that leak last year of the tax returns of thousands of the country’s wealthiest people that was published by ProPublica ProPublica. So anyway, if you haven’t already, when you hit send on your return, or stick it in the mailbox, spare a thought for the folks at the other end who are processing that return total. It’s gonna take them a while.

Kai Ryssdal: Absolutely. 100%. 100%. And look, sorry, just real quick, this is a choice that Congress has made, by the way, Congress has made this actively to insufficiently fund the revenue generating body for the government, which I don’t know shoot yourself in the foot much. Whatever.

Amy Scott: Yeah, right. I mean, I think staffing is it like 1970s levels? Yeah, despite the growth of this economy, and this the population, so.

Kai Ryssdal: For sure. Alright. Charlton. Let’s go. Okay, I’ve got two, just because I feel like it. Number one is, I am actually on the recommendation of one Kimberly Adams, the regular co-host of this podcast. I’m watching what is now an Amazon miniseries but I think was I don’t even know like Starz or Discovery or something. series called “The Expanse.” It’s a space distant future sci fi thing that I’m now way too deep into stop watching anyway, which piqued my interest in this story. I’m a space geek, as is Kimberly. Story in The New York Times the other day, “Military memo deepens possible interstellar media mystery.” Now we will put the details of this story on the show, we’ll put an actual link, but there was a meteor that came through our solar system that some observers, and this was like eight years ago, it was like 2014, some observers at Harvard thought was from another solar system that is to say outside our solar system, which will be amazeballs. Right? Interstellar from another star.

Amy Scott: Cool.

Kai Ryssdal: Which would be really cool, except the data that would have proved it was locked up inside the military industrial complex, which is pejorative. But basically, the way that we could have proved it would have been to reveal details about how we monitor things going on in the interstellar space. And also oh, by the way, foreign missiles. So the Defense Department would not give up that data. But they have now released a memorandum that says, “hey, our data, which we want to share with you says this totally could be an interstellar body.” So I just want to say that that would be really cool. That would be amazingly cool. If a thing from outside the solar system came in, that would just be super cool. And I would dig that.

Amy Scott: Absolutely, I’m not even a space geek. I agree.

Kai Ryssdal: I know. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. So here’s my second thing. And it’s if you don’t read Matt Levine at Bloomberg, and if you’re a finance and markets geek, you should, he’s been writing a lot about Twitter. And very quickly, Elon Musk accumulated a 9.2% stake now wants to buy the whole thing for 43 billion more dollars. The company has launched a poison pill, which is a way to dilute its shares so that it would make it really expensive for us to complete his purchase. Anyway, Musk very famously, three or four years ago said “I’m going to take Tesla private, at $420 a share, 420, of course, being the whole “Oh, it’s 4/20 Marijuana day,” whatever. I’ve never understood how that makes any sense. But that’s his little joke. And of course, he said “funding secured” and it really wasn’t and he got sein a bunch of trouble with the SEC. His tweet saying that he was going to take Twitter private said, “I’ve made an offer at 5420 a share.” 5420 share, get it right? Ha ha ha. Marijuana, marijuana joke. Wait, it gets better. So the company on Friday put out its poison pill offer. And it’s poison pill said. “Here’s your –” I love this. It’s poison pill basically said shareholders may buy additional shares at $210. And they can go two for one. And $210, two for one is…

Amy Scott: Oh, come on Kai.

Kai Ryssdal:  I exactly. Can somebody will somebody please grow up? Will somebody at Twitter or an Elon Musk’s orbit, please grow up. That’s all I want to know. That’s it. That’s what I got. Made me laugh.

Amy Scott: Make me groan. Yeah. Well, I was on vacation and missed that whole drama. And so thank you for the recap, because it was super helpful.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, yeah.

Amy Scott: All right. So I’ve got one, but it takes a while to get to the smiley part. So just bear with me.

Kai Ryssdal: I will.

Amy Scott:  So you know, this, this wave of book banning that’s happening in schools.   A nonprofit free speech group called PEN America recently reported that there have been more than 1,500 book bans in schools just in the past nine months. So it’s really an unprecedented push. And most of these are targeting books by or about Black people and racism, or about LGBTQ people. The Washington Post had a story today about how this movement has recently expanded from schools to public libraries making up about 37% of book challenges last year. So to get to the smiley part, another thing I missed while I’m on vacation, but I saw on Twitter today was a link to a story on a site called Book Riot. That says in response to all this, the Brooklyn Public Library is offering free electronic library cards to young people between 13 and 21, anywhere in the country. So normally, if you live out of state you have to pay for, for a library card to the Brooklyn Public Library. But this will give these young people access to hundreds of 1000s of eBooks and audiobooks with a special collection of Frequently Challenged Books that are always available with no weight, including classics like Toni Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye, the recent 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah Jones and The New York Times Magazine, you know, free books good story. The story points out that the most vulnerable kids are likely to have the least access to reliable technology. So it’s not clear how many kids this will really reach. But yeah, but free speech. I’m all for it.

Kai Ryssdal: Absolutely. Even if you – yeah, totally. Totally, totally, totally. And I will tell you, just anecdotally, the whole discussion over books in the classroom and books in the school library reaches everywhere, including upper middle class suburbia in Los Angeles.

Amy Scott: Oh, yeah?

Kai Ryssdal: I say from personal experience. It’s – Oh, it’s wild.

Amy Scott: Really.

Kai Ryssdal: It’s absolutely wild. Yeah, it’s absolutely wild.

Amy Scott: What’s really interesting is a lot of this is going on. outside of the normal process of challenging books.  Secretively. And in kind of dastardly ways.

Kai Ryssdal: Books are just disappearing.

Amy Scott: Yes, exactly. Yeah. And even the Maurice Sendak book ‘In The Night Kitchen,” do you remember that one? classic books that I loved as a kid are under attack for often very strange reasons like this boy in the book is portrayed without clothes on as kids, you know, often are. It’s just bananas.

Kai Ryssdal: All right, well, we’re gonna go out on that a little bit depressing note, but at least kids can get a book from a public library.

Amy Scott:  Make me smile. There was a  smile in there somewhere I forgot it.

Kai Ryssdal: That’s okay. There was – there was a smile in there somewhere we’re done for today. Amy and I are back tomorrow. We’re doing the economics of refugees with obviously Ukraine. And Ukrainians being resettled continuing to be in the news. There’s also Afghans in this country still being resettled, costs, ramifications economic impact, we’re going to – and pay off by the way for the rest of society. We’re gonna be talking about all of that tomorrow on the Tuesday show.

Amy Scott: And you can weigh in with questions or tell you tell us what you thought about today’s show. You can send us a voice memo or email to makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can call and leave a voice message and that number is 508-U-B-SMART.

Kai Ryssdal: Make Me Smart is produced by Marisa Cabrera with help from Marque Greene. Our intern’s Tiffany Bui Today’s program is engineered by Charlton Thorpe.

Amy Scott:  Our senior producer is Bridget Bodnar and the director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

Kai Ryssdal: Donna, Donna, Donna.

Amy Scott: There we go.

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The team

Marissa Cabrera Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer