IRS nominee gets GOP support

Hatch, Portman say they’ll back Koskinen to lead agency

The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said Wednesday he will support President Obama’s nominee to become the next head of the scandal-plagued IRS — an announcement that bodes well for John Koskinen’s confirmation by the Senate.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said he was inclined to support the nomination of Mr. Koskinen after he fielded two days of questions related to the controversy over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and the role the agency will play in implementing Obamacare.

“I’m also very favorably disposed toward your nomination and want to see you confirmed and will do what I can to see that you are,” Mr. Hatch said.

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, also said he plans on backing Mr. Koskinen.

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, plans a final committee vote on the nomination Friday before Mr. Koskinen is sent to the Democrat-led Senate for confirmation.

“I believe it’s critical to have a confirmed leader in place at the IRS as soon as possible,” Mr. Baucus said.

If confirmed, Mr. Koskinen, who served as the non-executive chairman at housing finance giant Freddie Mac following the financial crisis, will take over the IRS at a tough time.

The Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, the IRS watchdog, released a report in September that found the IRS system for determining who will be eligible for tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act is not secure.

The inspector general’s office also rocked Washington in May when it released an audit that said the IRS was giving special scrutiny to conservative groups that had “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names and that had applied for tax-exempt status.

The audit said that some of the applications were held up for years. Under fire, Mr. Obama forced acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign, and tapped Danny Werfel, a White House aide, to temporarily lead the agency.

Mr. Portman said Wednesday the episode undercut positive steps the agency had made since the 1990s in making it more responsive to taxpayer needs.

“Unfortunately, I think what happened recently with regard to the IRS targeting certain groups based on their political views reversed a lot of that progress,” Mr. Portman said. “I hope that should you be confirmed, which I expect you will be, with my support, that you’ll be willing to really dig into this and get to the bottom of it … so that we can begin to repair this sense of trust that I think has been reversed and eroded through the process.”

Mr. Koskinen vowed during his two days of testimony that he will fight possible fraud tied to Obamacare tax credits and subsidies and to take a nonpartisan approach to enforcing new IRS rules governing tax-exempt organizations.

“People need to have a view that the IRS is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan agency and that they will all be treated fairly no matter what their affiliation or political view,” Mr. Koskinen said.

The confirmation hearing was held over two days because Republicans refused to waive a procedural rule Tuesday in protest of the recent change Democrats made to reduce to 50 the number of votes needed to end debate on most presidential nominees.

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