Republicans frustrated by Democratic attempts to block IRS legislation

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Republicans on Capitol Hill are becoming frustrated with Democratic attempts to block legislation to reform the IRS with funding cuts and other punitive measures. Republicans insist that the IRS should be “punished,” while Democrats fear a new precedent that could lead to budget cuts in other agencies.

“There’s fear that [the IRS scandal] is becoming politicized,” a Republican insider on Capitol Hill told The Daily Caller. “There’s hope that at least one of the House investigations will go somewhere, but there’s still doubt” that Democrats will manage to block IRS-related legislation.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told fellow Republicans this week that he will bring an entire slate of IRS-related bills to a floor vote before the August recess, including a bill to allow citizens to record their conversations with IRS agents and a bill to block the IRS’ scheduled 2014 enforcement of Obamacare.

The legislative package will “give Republican members the ability to address the growing distrust of Washington emanating from recent scandals and stories, especially in the case of the IRS,” according to a Cantor aide.

But fierce partisan politics is already jeopardizing GOP proposals.

A spending bill to cut IRS funding by approximately $3 billion, or 24 percent of the agency’s budget, passed a subcommittee of the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee Wednesday despite Democratic objections. The bill would set the IRS budget at $9 billion for fiscal year 2014, a nearly $3 billion cut from fiscal year 2013 and the agency’s smallest budget since 2001. The bill would also cut the IRS’ enforcement funds by 10 percent until the agency implements reforms suggested by Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George’s report on the IRS scandal, and would set strict limits on the agency’s productions of taxpayer-funded videos and hosting of conferences, and on employee bonuses.

“Taxpayer-funded bonuses are not an employee ‘right,'” Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey told TheDC. “If you’re under investigation, you shouldn’t receive a bonus. This is common sense.

“The IRS has not only wasted money hosting lavish conferences costing millions of dollars, but it has improperly targeted certain political groups. This disregard for the taxpayer’s money cannot be tolerated,” Republican Rep. Dennis Ross told TheDC.

“It won’t pass the Senate,” the Republican insider told TheDC. “But if it passes the House, it will send a wake-up call.”

“I share the majority’s outrage over these improper practices, but a multi-billion dollar cut to the agency will do nothing to solve these problems,” said New York Rep. Jose Serrano, the top Democrat on the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee within the Appropriations Committee. “Rather than attempting to fund training and reform programs, the majority has chosen to lay off thousands of IRS employees — almost all of whom had absolutely nothing to do with this issue. This funding level is something that will make tax cheats everywhere smile.”

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents many IRS agents, also slammed the Republican bill and suggested that layoffs will result. NTEU recently prevented acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel from completely cutting all bonuses to IRS employees this year, as he promised.

Though it is unclear whether or not layoffs will result if the bill passes into law, Republicans are wary of that line of attack. House Republicans plan to focus on the IRS’ lavish and wasteful spending in justifying their proposed budget cut, rather than portraying the bill as an act of punishment against an agency still under investigation.

“Frankly, they have too much money as it is,” according to the insider, who noted examples of the IRS’ spending excesses while still acknowledging that many Republicans simply want to see the agency “punished.”

As The Daily Caller reported, the IRS hosted a taxpayer-funded 2010 conference in Anaheim that featured lavish hotel rooms for IRS officials at the Anaheim Marriott and elsewhere, a speaker specializing in honesty training, and a motivational speaker that paints portraits of Bono live on stage. IRS officials also starred in elaborate parody videos of “Star Trek” and reality-TV dance competitions. The IRS employs 201 full-time union representatives to work exclusively on union business.

Conservatives in Washington are supportive of Republicans’ anti-IRS legislative efforts, but cognizant of Democratic motives for blocking the bills.

“The tactic of going at the money is not a new one. In fact, that is the real power of the House of Representatives, and it has not been utilized by the current majority until now,” Richard Manning of Americans for Limited Government told TheDC. “But it will set a precedent of cuts to government spending [in the aftermath of scandal.] It will open up the possibility that other agencies could get cut. I am confident that it is the chief concern for Democrats right now on the issue,” Manning said.

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Patrick Howley