Development: IRS commissioner makes another pitch for better funding as Republicans tell him to reallocate current resources.
Looking Ahead: Usual appropriations argument is playing out at same time House Republicans are passing IRS oversight bills.
April 19 — Congressional Republicans and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen bickered over agency funding at a hearing in which he described the current tax filing season as going smoothly so far.
Among positive metrics, the IRS has registered a better-than-70 percent average level of service on toll-free help lines thanks to funding for temporary employees this year, Koskinen said. But better appropriations would help the Internal Revenue Service improve taxpayer service even more, not to mention strengthen its criminal enforcement and information technology capabilities, Koskinen said.
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee begged to differ, particularly on cybersecurity and identity theft.
“In my view, the IRS has demonstrated a capacity to do things that it prioritizes, and the proof of that is its successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” the panel's chairman, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), told Bloomberg BNA after the hearing on April 19. “The challenge is we've got to get the IRS's level of intensity” focusing in on cybersecurity and identity theft “with the same fervor that they've taken on the Affordable Care Act.”
His point was underscored by Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), a subcommittee member who testified about his own tax return identity theft experience in the past year. Several others on the panel also said they have personally faced tax return schemes, namely receiving false IRS phone calls in which scammers tried prying financial information from them, and Koskinen said he too has received a fake IRS phone call.
But the shared phone scam experiences aside, the fundamental disconnect between Roskam and Koskinen, whom some House Republicans want to impeach, embodies a long-standing theme between both camps.
That rift has been carried onto the House floor the week of April 18, coincidental to most taxpayers' annual income tax filing deadline.
House Republicans took steps to advance four bills aimed at showing that Congress is playing a strong oversight role over the IRS, Roskam said.
On largely party-line votes, the House passed rules on legislation to prevent the IRS from rehiring employees previously fired for misconduct (H.R. 3724), prevent tax delinquencies by IRS personnel (H.R. 1206), end bonus payments for IRS employees until a new customer service strategy gets implemented (H.R. 4890) and give Congress power over user fees collected by the IRS (H.R. 4885).
“We know that the IRS cannot be trusted to police itself,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters at a press conference. “That has been proven. Each time we uncover more problems, the IRS comes up with more excuses.”
Votes to pass the legislation are scheduled for later in the week, though prospects for the bills in the Senate are questionable and President Barack Obama's opposition is clear. White House statements of administration policy opposing the IRS legislation were issued April 18.
Democratic taxwriters, including Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif. ) and Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), were less than impressed, saying that House members could better use their time to tackle issues on the budget or immigration, for example.
“It is another week where we haven't done a jobs bill, it is another week where we haven't done the budget the way we were obligated to,” Becerra said. “It's another wasted week.”
Neal said he was dubious of the IRS bills' value, saying it would be better to go after the tax system rather than those who collect taxes.
Ryan said they were working on that too, as a House Republican tax task force headed by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) gathers ideas for a tax overhaul. The ideas would be offered to the U.S. public to earn a mandate to put a tax overhaul in place next year, Ryan said.
“We need a new president that is not such an ideologue so that we can actually get comprehensive pro-growth tax reform,” he said.
Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans are still discussing whether to bring the bills up for a vote, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
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