By Congressman Mike Simpson
“Let’s clarify something right from the beginning: the IRS scandal is real and it represents a serious breach of the public trust. The IRS has admitted they took inappropriate action in targeting conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny and delayed many of their efforts to achieve tax-exempt status. Despite the claims of some, we know this to be true. Lois Lerner, who oversaw the tax-exempt division at IRS, said:
They (IRS staff) used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title. That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review. We don’t select for review because they have a particular name.
“Since then, some Democrats have tried to divert attention from the issue by claiming the IRS also targeted liberal groups, but an examination of the facts shows that those groups received nothing more than routine scrutiny. Senior IRS officials have placed blame on lower level workers in Cincinnati. The White House has called it a “phony scandal” (while the same day stating “we need to get to the bottom of what happened at the IRS.”)
“As the scandal continues to generate plenty of noise, one question of mine has still not been answered. How do we prevent this from happening ever again? I hold out little hope that the IRS or the administration will fix the problem independently. After initially claiming they would “hold the responsible parties accountable” a 30-day review by the IRS found “no evidence of intentional wrongdoing.”
“The House of Representatives is where a real solution to this problem must originate. I have already cosponsored legislation that would help prevent further politically-motivated discrimination by increasing penalties for such behavior. H.R. 1950, the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination and Protection Act would impose a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to five years. This is a good start.
“I’ve also cosponsored and voted for H.R. 2009, the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act, which recently passed the House. We learned this month that under Obamacare, the IRS will share personal information, including income and tax filing status, with states and other agencies to confirm whether or not Americans are eligible for tax credits in the new system. The IRS will use tax return data to check that household income matches what applicants declare. There are many people questioning the IRS’s ability to safeguard that information. At this point, the IRS has lost the trust of the American people as a politically unbiased organization, and Obamacare will only allow the IRS to reach further into our lives.
“Unfortunately, we know that H.R. 2009 stands little chance of passage in the Senate, nor would it be accepted by President Obama. Still, it is important legislation and it sets the bar for future negotiations on IRS policy.
“But despite these two pieces of legislation, there is more Congress must do in its oversight role. The Oversight Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are engaged in a thorough investigation, and despite the delays and obstruction by the IRS and the administration, Congress must thoroughly examine the facts and scrutinize those who acted improperly and hold them accountable. New policies must be put in place to ensure the IRS will act impartially in the future.
“This issue is not about scoring political points; it is about restoring American’s trust in their government. This is one step Congress can take to right a wrong and bring transparency and accountability to the IRS. I look forward to these investigations as more information comes to light.”