House votes to restrict IRS hires and funding

The House passed two bills on Wednesday that place restrictions on the Internal Revenue Service’s hiring and spending as part of a package of legislation aimed at reining in the agency. 

The measures passed largely along party lines. The Obama administration has said it opposes the bills and explicitly threatened to veto one of them.

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The first of the two measures approved Wednesday, by a vote of 254-170, would prevent the IRS from hiring new employees until the Treasury Department either certifies that no agency employees have seriously delinquent tax debt or issues a report explaining why it cannot make that certification.

“This is a commonsense bill that will help encourage the IRS to clean up its act,” said Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), the author of the legislation. 

But Democrats warned the proposal would ultimately compromise services for taxpayers if the agency can’t hire any new employees.

“How can a hiring freeze possibly help taxpayers?” asked Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Eleven Democrats, many of whom face tough reelection races this cycle, broke ranks with their party to support the bill: Reps. Brad Ashford (Neb.), Ami BeraAmi BeraIndependent investigation into Russian interference needed House Democrats identify vulnerable incumbents for 2018 cycle Dems bringing young undocumented immigrants to Trump's speech MORE (Calif.), Julia BrownleyJulia BrownleyLawmakers press Mattis on Marines nude photo scandal A guide to the committees: House House caucus to focus on business in Latin America MORE (Calif.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Gwen Graham (Fla.), Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickWomen make little gains in new Congress McCain wins sixth Senate term In Arizona, history and voter registration data gives GOP edge MORE (Ariz.), Anne McLane Kuster (N.H.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). 
 
Rep. David Jolly (Fla.), who’s running in a crowded GOP primary for Senate, was the only Republican to vote against it.

Furthermore, the White House noted in a statement of administration policy opposing the measure that IRS employees have among the lowest rates of tax delinquency and already can be fired for not paying their taxes.  

A 2015 IRS report found that the Treasury Department, which includes the tax agency, had the lowest delinquency rate among federal agencies.  

Lawmakers also passed legislation by a vote of 245-179 that would prevent the IRS from spending the user fees it collects without approval from Congress.

Republicans have expressed concerns about how the IRS spends user fees in light of a Government Accountability Office report that found that the agency spent significantly less user fee receipts on customer service in 2015 than it did the year before. Some of the user fee receipts were instead allocated to fund technology investments to implement ObamaCare. 

“What are they afraid of? Why are they afraid of having some real transparency where we can actually hold the IRS accountable for these user fees?” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.).

The Obama administration said that the president would veto the bill, noting that it would further reduce the IRS’s resources at a time when the agency is already underfunded.

“The IRS needs more resources, not fewer, to deter tax cheats, serve honest taxpayers, and protect taxpayer data,” the Office of Management and Budget said. 

The House also approved two less controversial measures by voice vote on Tuesday to rein in the IRS. One would require the agency to reinstate the availability of paper pamphlets offering instructions for filing tax returns. The other would prohibit the IRS from using funds to target citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Lawmakers will consider two more IRS-related measures before adjourning for the week on Thursday. Legislation to prohibit the IRS from re-hiring employees who were fired for misconduct or awarding any employee bonuses until it implements a strategy to improve customer service will be on tap for votes.