House to vote on bill terminating federal workers who don't pay their taxes

The House will vote on legislation as early as Tuesday that would require the federal government to terminate workers with "seriously delinquent" tax debts. 

The bill, which also would prohibit the government from hiring people who are late on their tax payments, tries to deal with the roughly 100,000 federal workers who are usually behind on their taxes each year.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the bill’s sponsor, has cited IRS data indicating that these workers owed a combined $1 billion in delinquent taxes in 2009, up from roughly $600 million in 2004. 

Even with the increased amount, the number of federal employees who are late in their tax payments has remained steady, at about 100,000 each year.

"Federal employees, contractors and grantees have an obvious obligation to pay their taxes," Chaffetz said when he introduced his bill in 2011. "Because they draw their compensation and funds from the American taxpayers, they owe it to the taxpayers themselves to be compliant. Those that do not should be fired or lose funding."

The vote on the measure, H.R. 828, comes after Republicans and Democrats, especially those from the Washington, D.C.-area, have sparred for months over proposals dealing with the federal workforce.

Top Democrats like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) voted against this year’s payroll tax cut extension, a top White House priority, because future government employees would help foot the bill. 

“Republicans have unfairly targeted federal employees throughout this Congress,” Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokeswoman, told The Hill in a Monday statement. “Rep. Hoyer believes House Republicans are engaged in reckless and unconstructive political theater when they target federal employees with bills like this one.”

Republicans have looked to the federal workforce for savings to help undo the automatic spending cuts set to begin next year.

Chaffetz’s bill would open up all federal workers to be fired for not paying their income taxes, although it would require the Office of Personnel Management to put in place procedures ensuring due process. 

The government would be required to give workers 180 days to show their debt is being paid off. Under current law, only IRS employees can be fired for income tax delinquency.

Chaffetz also pushed to exempt active service members from the measure, and the GOP accepted a Democratic proposal to ensure that the bill wouldn’t impede revenue collection. 

House Republicans are considering the bill under a suspension of rules, which means a two-thirds majority will be required to pass it. Republicans can be expected to support it, so roughly 40 to 50 Democrats will be needed for passage.

The House Oversight Committee cleared the measure by voice vote last year, a sign of at least some Democratic support. 

But unions representing federal workers and Democrats like Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight panel, argue only a sliver of federal workers aren’t compliant on their taxes. 

“We find this measure redundant, since there are sufficient remedies already in place, including wage garnishment, to deal with those who fall behind in their tax obligations, but are capable of repayment,” Colleen Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told The Hill in a statement.

— This story was updated at 4:26 p.m.