The Corner

As IRS Chief Heads to Capitol Hill, GOP Rep. Introduces ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights’

Acting IRS administrator Danny Werfel is set to appear as the lone witness on Thursday before the House Ways and Means Committee to testify on his report — an update on the agency’s follow-up to an inspector general’s report concluding it inappropriately targeted tea-party groups — in which he said the agency’s discrimination was not limited to conservative organizations but occurred across the ideological spectrum.

One member of the committee, who happens to be the fourth-ranking Republican in Congress, is not buying Werfel’s claims. “The IRS is in full spin mode,” Representative Peter Roskam tells National Review Online. The Illinois congressman says Werfel’s recent revelations are merely an attempt to “take the attention away” from the targeting scandal and to “muddy the issue.” “This was all about political philosophy,” he insists, “and it has to stop.”

Though the IRS’s now infamous “lookout list” did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were instructed to treat progressive organizations differently from tea-party groups. Whereas they were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for progressive groups, line agents were told to send tea-party applications off to IRS higher-ups, who coordinated their processing with lawyers in Washington, D.C. Beyond that, according to Roskam, there is “no substantive demonstration from any liberal group that they were targeted adversely.”

In advance of Thursday’s congressional hearing, he issued a stern warning to his forthcoming witness regarding what he considers the agency’s attempts to misdirect the American people about the nature of the targeting that occurred:  “The committee is not going to stand for it.”

Werfel’s 83-page report, released on Monday, concluded, based on the IRS’s internal investigation of the matter, that the targeting of tea-party groups resulted from “significant management and judgment failures” but that “we have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by IRS personnel.” Werfel also indicated that he is relying on Congress and the inspector general’s office to conduct interviews with his employees and to get to the bottom of the problem.

Roskam has little patience for what he considers the report’s vagueness and sidestepping. The report, he says, articulates the problem at the heart of the IRS: government gone wild. The agency is “incapable of getting to the bottom of a discipline problem, a wasting of taxpayer funds problem, a lying to Congress and the American people problem.” In short, “an agency that is out of control.” 

The GOP’s chief deputy whip is determined to put the agency back in what he considers to be its rightful place in both Washington and American life, and he is introducing legislation that he believes will do so. In addition to grilling Werfel on Thursday, Roskam will also introduce a package of four bills that together he is calling the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It is intended to address the slew of scandals roiling the IRS, from the targeting of conservative groups to the lavish spending on employee conferences. The four laws would, among other things, require the IRS to notify taxpayers every time their information is shared, prohibit the agency from asking citizens questions about their political, religious, or social beliefs, and forbid the IRS from holding conferences until it implements the corrective measures made by the inspector general in mid-May.   

In the GOP-controlled House, the Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight Committee are working together to investigate the IRS. The Ways and Means Committee plays a particularly important role in the investigation because its chairman, Michigan congressman Dave Camp, has the authority to request access to private taxpayer information. (In Congress, that power is shared only by Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.)  In the investigation of this scandal, seeing how the IRS processed taxpayer files may prove vital. “It removes a shield that the IRS might be tempted to use,” Roskam explains.

And, though some Democrats – chief among them, Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings – are using the latest disclosures from the IRS to argue it’s time to call off the investigation, Roskum and the rest of the GOP leadership are not deterred. House Speaker John Boehner, he says, has made clear he expects the committees to “get to the bottom of this.” If Roskam has anything to say about it, they will surely pursue the investigation relentlessly.  

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