IRS Commissioner John Koskinen went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about Obamacare. But inevitably, he faced questions about the political targeting scandal that hit the revenue agency shortly before he took the reins.
The IRS administers premium tax credits that help people pay for health plans from the health law’s insurance exchanges. It will also enforce the law’s individual mandate, which requires most Americans to hold health insurance.
But Rep. Peter Roskam, Illinois Republican, asked the commissioner if Congress can rely on the IRS to employ a fair hand in scrutinizing those who attest they have health insurance and shouldn’t not pay a penalty under the law’s individual mandate.
“What are the things that are happening proactively to prevent the next Lois Lerner — Lois Lerner 2.0 — from looking out over a landscape with a high level of discretion to be able to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to make inquiries here, and we’re going to make inquiries there, and we’re not to make inquiries over here,’ and you see where I’m going,” he told Mr. Koskinen.
Ms. Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Office of Exempt Organizations, retired about a year ago.
But she became the face of the IRS’ political targeting scandal when she admitted her division had used inappropriate criteria to scrutinize political groups seeking tax-exempt status. The admission came ahead of an inspector general’s report outlining concerns about political targeting.
Conservatives says Ms. Lerner was trying to silence right-leaning groups, and have launched a wide-ranging probe to back up their assertions about the IRS and beat back claims by Democrats that liberal groups were targeted by the IRS, too.
Since then the IRS has said it lost Ms. Lerner’s emails that come from a period relevant to the investigation, stoking Republicans’ ire.
To Mr. Roskam, that raises questions about the tech folks who will administer Obamacare’s provisions next year.
“Are these the same IT people that can’t find Lois Lerner’s emails and can’t deal with hard drives?” he asked.
Mr. Koskinen said the IRS’s systems are set up so that no one employee can pick out a specific taxpayer for scrutiny.
He said the targeting investigation found no evidence that anyone picked out an individual political group seeking tax-exempt status, but that inappropriate criteria were used.
“You’re not defending Lois Lerner,” Mr. Roskam interjected.
“I don’t know her, and I’m not defending her,” the commissioner replied.
“I wouldn’t give her eye contact,” Mr. Roskam said.