Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that he will oppose President Obama's pick to be the next head of the scandal-plagued IRS.
The Kentucky Republican said he will vote against the confirmation of John Koskinen because of the recent rule change Senate Democrats muscled through regarding the confirmation of presidential nominees and because of the ongoing investigation into the additional scrutiny the Internal Revenue Service gave to conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status.
"The American people deserve answers about how and why this targeting happened," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. "They deserve justice, too. And I will not be supporting any nominee to lead this agency until the American people get the answers they deserve."
Mr. McConnell also said he is concerned about the role the agency will play in implementing Obamacare.
Still, Mr. Koskinen, who served as the non-executive chairman at housing giant Freddie Mac in the wake of the financial crisis, appears poised to be confirmed by the Senate — thanks in part to the rules change that reduces the threshold for ending filibusters of presidential nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority in the Senate.
Mr. Koskinen told the Senate Finance Committee last week that one of his primary goals will be to restore the public's trust in the agency.
During the confirmation hearing, Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking member on the committee, and Rob Portman of Ohio were among those who indicated they would vote to confirm Mr. Koskinen.
The vote on his confirmation is expected before the end of the week. If confirmed, Mr. Koskinen will be faced with a series of challenges.
The Treasury inspector general for tax administration, the IRS watchdog, released an audit in May that said the agency was inappropriately targeting conservative groups that had “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names, and giving them extra scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status.
The audit found that the IRS delayed the applications, in some cases for years, and Mr. Obama forced acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to step down as a result.
The news sparked outrage from Republicans, who said it showed the administration's desire to silence its detractors.
The Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration also released a report in September that found the IRS system for determining who is eligible for tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act is not secure.
On Thursday, Mr. McConnell, who faces a primary challenge from his right flank in Kentucky, raised concerns about the Affordable Care Act, saying that it gives the agency broad new responsibilities for enforcing "onerous mandates, and to hand out nearly a trillion dollars in taxpayer subsidies."
"In order to do all this, it will need to know who has insurance, penalize those who don’t, and determine who’s eligible for subsidies and how much they ought to receive – something that the agency has a very troubled history in doing with other programs," he said.
Mr. McConnell also said Thursday that he is not convinced that the White House is taking the investigation into what went wrong seriously.
"In many ways it seems to have treated the scandal more as a public relations problem to get past than a serious problem to solve," he said. “And now — get this — they just expect the elected representatives of the people to roll over and rubber-stamp a new presidential nominee to head the IRS. They want Congress to forget what happened, too, and just move on."
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