Politics & Policy

Stopping Government Abuse

Congress should act now to curb the power that the federal government has over citizens.

We still have not gotten to the bottom of the IRS scandal, as even White House press secretary Jay Carney admitted on Wednesday. House Republicans must continue to follow the evidence where it leads, and overcome the obstruction of House Democrats. What we already know about the scandal, though, is that we have given the IRS and the federal government generally too much power over citizens. Cutting Leviathan down to size is the long-term work of conservatism. But Congress can act right now to stop federal abuses.

So we’re glad to see that even as they continue their investigation, House Republicans are planning a raft of legislation to rein in federal agencies and provide Americans with concrete protections against abuse.

Each year federal agencies make almost 1 million adjudications about citizens’ compliance with their regulations, and the defendants aren’t guaranteed the rights they have in a court of law. The Citizen Empowerment Act would help citizens protect their rights in such cases, by allowing them, for instance, to record their interactions with federal bureaucrats and notifying them of that right. A new Taxpayer Bill of Rights would establish certain protections for taxpayers, including rights to privacy and accountability, and task the IRS commissioner with ensuring they are respected.

#ad#Other pieces of legislation would ensure that bureaucrats suspected of violating those rights would meet with consequences — no more paid vacation for bureaucrats being investigated for abuse of power, to start. The Government Employee Accountability Act would allow the federal government to place employees under investigation for serious offenses on unpaid leave, and another piece of legislation would make political interference at the IRS a firing offense.

As part of this push, Republicans are also highlighting earlier proposals to make government accountable. The REINS Act would require congressional approval for any new federal regulation with a cost over $100 million, taking the power to make economically significant policy away from executive bureaucrats and placing it back in the hands of the legislature.

In the 1990s, during the last round of serious scandals surrounding the IRS, similar, specific action was taken: A bipartisan commission provided recommendations for reform of the agency, and a number of measures were implemented. These included the creation of an inspector general to supervise the Treasury Department’s tax-administration operations. That office’s current head, J. Russell George, investigated and revealed the tea-party targeting. This time, a bipartisan commission seems unlikely — witness the withering attacks Democrats are now leveling at that inspector general. But Republicans must pass legislative reforms to restrain the IRS, and our ever-growing bureaucracy more broadly, at a time when Americans have just been reminded of its malignance.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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