After successfully blocking funding for the IRS to implement President Obama's health care law last year, Republicans recoiled at news this week that the administration is filtering a half-billion dollars to the agency so it can hire more agents to carry out the law's new requirements.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, sent a letter to the IRS on Wednesday demanding an explanation of how the agency plans to use the money and how much more it will need. He is reviving an issue Republicans seized upon when they decided that if they couldn't repeal the whole law, they would at least try to stymie it at every turn.
"The American people deserve to know how and why this one-half billion in taxpayer dollars are being spent, and how many additional IRS agents, auditors and other workers are being hired to enforce all the hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and penalties in the Democrats' health care law," Mr. Camp said.
The administration hasn't denied a report by the Hill newspaper earlier this week that the Department of Health and Human Services plans to transfer $300 million this year to the IRS to put the health care law in place.
Mr. Camp asked the agency for details — such as how many employees are working on implementing the law and how much money is needed from HHS — requesting a response by April 27.
Facing a laundry list of new responsibilities under the health care law, the agency has said it needs to hire hundreds more employees to administer new insurance subsidies for low-to-middle-income earners and impose fines on Americans who don't comply with an individual mandate to purchase coverage.
The administration already has given the IRS about $238.2 million out of a $1 billion fund designated by the Affordable Care Act for federal agencies as they implement the law. Last year, the president's budget requested another $473 million for the agency to hire 1,269 workers, but House Republicans responded by passing an amendment banning the government from enforcing the individual mandate.
Frustrated that Senate Democrats blocked most of their attempts to defund and repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans settled on trying to undermine the $1 trillion law however they could, calling the designated implementation dollars a "slush fund" and charging that the IRS workforce would expand by thousands.
"This isn't just some startup money that fell into the wrong hands," House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in March 2011. "It's a series of slush funds set up to stay on the books automatically with little or no oversight."
During the budget gridlock the following month that nearly led to a government shutdown, Republicans managed to force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip the extra IRS funding from the final deal. And Mr. Camp demanded that the agency detail how it was spending all the money it already had received.
This year, the president requested another $360 million for the agency to hire 859 new workers.
Mr. Camp said Wednesday that the IRS' requests for funding right now are "just the tip of the iceberg," as the agency anticipates implementing the health care law over the next decade — assuming the Supreme Court doesn't overturn part or all of the law in a decision expected in June.
"This expansion of the IRS' power and reach into Americans' daily lives includes the IRS verifying that you have acceptable health care coverage, penalizing you if you don't and increasing audits," Mr. Camp said.
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