Revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for discriminatory treatment, and leaked confidential information about those groups to a left-wing outfit, ProPublica, should make us think twice about the White House’s plans to give the IRS even more authority — over our medicine cabinets.
That’s right. The IRS is being put in charge of enforcing the president’s health care law, Obamacare. The controversial law fills 2,801 pages; its various regulations, another 13,000. This mountain of paper forms a stack seven feet high, or, laid end to end, a paper trail stretching for two and a half miles. And it turns out no federal agency is given a more important role in implementing all that red tape than the IRS, the recipient of no fewer than 47 new duties and enforcement powers under the law.
Those duties include imposing tax penalties on individuals and businesses, and providing tax subsidies to millions of people who buy insurance through government “exchanges.” According to the IRS inspector general, the new health care powers and duties “represent the largest set of tax law changes the IRS has had to implement in more than 20 years.”
Hmm. Are we really prepared to put our health insurance system under the same agency that, as we’ve learned from the targeting scandal, took 1,138 days to approve just one non-exempt group’s tax application?
The IRS’s 90,000 employees can’t even handle their current duties. They have plenty on their plate, just trying to implement a tax code of 73,000 mind-numbing pages, a tax code prone to political abuse and corruption because it’s rife with hundreds of corporate handouts and special provisions for powerful interests.
While it will surely be incompetent at its new tasks, the IRS does have the ability to abuse its new powers. Think about it. Put the national tax collection agency, one of the most powerful government agencies in the world, in charge of policing the financing of everyone’s health care, and give it a bunch of new powers and duties. What could go wrong?
If citizens who hold a disfavored political view are already being harassed with excessive paperwork requests and delays, what’s preventing politically motivated IRS bureaucrats from leaking sensitive health information to groups like ProPublica, or subjecting those with disfavored medical conditions to discriminatory audits?
And then there are the privacy issues. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported:
“To monitor compliance with these rules [i.e., Obamacare], the IRS and HHS are now building the largest personal information database the government has ever attempted. Known as the Federal Data Services Hub, the project is taking the IRS’s own records (for income and employment status) and centralizing them with information from Social Security (identity), Homeland Security (citizenship), Justice (criminal history), HHS (enrollment in entitlement programs and certain medical claims data) and state governments (residency).”
One of the many troubling facts to emerge from the targeting scandal has been the incredibly personal nature of the questions asked of groups applying for non-profit status. The IRS made some groups disclose all of their employees’ resumes, as well as information about the nature of personal relationships between employees. They even demanded to know the contents of a religious group’s prayers. If this level of detail is required for a rather simple business matter, determining tax-exempt status, imagine what the tax bureaucrats will do with our intimate health-related information.
Or rather, don’t imagine: just read the headlines. A new lawsuit in California alleges that the IRS has illegally seized the medical records of 10 million Americans.
In a recent congressional hearing, former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller blamed his agency’s scandalous actions on a lack of money and manpower. It “would be good,” Miller suggested, “to have a little budget, that would allow [the IRS] to get more than the number of people we have, to do 70,000 applications, and to do our job, and looking at whether an organization is tax-exempt or not.”
Hmm. Is that the problem? Stingy taxpayers?
Question: Should we give the IRS — one of the nation’s most powerful, and most feared, agencies — more money?
Answer: We should get the IRS out of the health care business altogether. We could make its job easier and reduce political corruption by ending corporate handouts and dramatically simplifying the tax code.
Congressman Tom Price, a doctor from Georgia, has just introduced a bill called the Keep the IRS off Your Health Care Act. It would do just that: end any role for the IRS in Obamacare.
Congress, what are you waiting for? Enact it — stat!
Dean Clancy is the vice president of public policy for FreedomWorks, a grassroots service center to a community of over 4 million activists who believe in individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. Follow him on Twitter @DeanClancy