While the IRS scandal is only a week old, Capitol Hill Republicans already are pushing more than a half-dozen pieces of legislation that would punish and clip the wings of the beleaguered agency.
The anti-IRS measures — ranging from throwing Internal Revenue Service agents in jail to a halt of IRS-led audits — are the latest headache for an agency at the center of several investigations whose acting boss was forced to resign this week over the improper targeting of conservative groups.
Republicans deny their legislative attacks are partisan potshots, saying the IRS violated basic constitutional rights. But some of the bill’s sponsors hint of a link between the agency’s action and the Obama administration — a move Democrats say is a false connection and crass political exploitation.
Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican, has introduced a bill that would suspend for 180 days the IRS‘ authority to conduct new audits, saying the moratorium is needed while Congress investigates the matter.
But he said it’s already clear that the IRS for years has been used as a political weapon to target tea party groups, conservative professors and pundits critical of President Obama.
“What’s especially stunning is that the president, the attorney general and the IRS are all suggesting that this was not a coordinated attack on conservative groups or individuals,” Mr. Fleming said. “If that’s true, then our worst fears about the IRS may be true: countless IRS agents are going rogue and using their government-backed power to carry out personal and political vendettas.”
He added he’s “not convinced that’s the case.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea party favorite who is considering a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, proposed a resolution that condemns the IRS targeting of tea party groups and that calls for an investigation and possible criminal charges for those responsible.
“The president has deemed this inexcusable, yet actions speak louder than words,” said Mr. Paul, suggesting Mr. Obama was slow in taking the scandal seriously. “It is time for President Obama and his administration to act, and it is our duty as Americans to hold them accountable.”
Senate Democrats, who control the chamber, placed a hold on Mr. Rand’s bill to prevent it from coming to the floor for a vote.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, has proposed a bill that would bar the IRS from discriminating against groups under — or applying for — tax-exempt status based on their ideology, saying “it’s sad that this legislation is even necessary.”
“But as we learn more and ensure those involved are held accountable for this wrongdoing, this bill will prohibit additional targeting from occurring in the future,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio, both Republicans, introduced companion bills that call for IRS employees who willfully violate the “constitutional rights of a taxpayer” to be fired and face criminal charges.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, meanwhile, has dusted off a bill he initially proposed in 2011 that prohibits the IRS from hiring any personnel for the purpose of implementing Mr. Obama’a 2010 health care law. A Forbes spokesman said the lawmaker reintroduced the bill this week in light of the IRS scandal, which broke last Friday.
The IRS matter also inspired Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, to introduce a bill that would prohibit the IRS from receiving any funding under the health care law — major parts of which it is supposed to enforce.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back at the condemnations, saying Republicans are exploiting the IRS matter — along with bubbling scandals involving the 2012 Benghazi attacks and the Justice Department’s snooping of The Associated Press — in order to falsely tarnish the president.
“They will use these as, again, subterfuges, evasions of what the American people want us to do here. They want us to create jobs,” the California Democrat said Thursday during her weekly news conference at the Capitol.
“The president is strong. And because he’s strong and because he’s effective, they make him the object of their political action. But I have great confidence in him.”