House Republicans set May vote on holding Lois Lerner in contempt

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The House next month plans to vote to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt for her refusal to testify before Congress about the targeting of Tea Party groups, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told his colleagues in a memo Friday.

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The vote on Lerner, who led the agency’s tax-exempt division, follows a party-line contempt referral by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has tried for nearly a year to get Lerner to answer questions on the grounds that she waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Lerner defended herself in an opening statement at a hearing last year but took the Fifth to avoid answering follow-up questions from lawmakers, and Cantor said the House would hold the contempt vote unless she changed her mind.

Cantor’s memo said Lerner could avoid the contempt vote if she agrees to testify before the Oversight panel. Lerner’s lawyer, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, has said previously that he doesn’t expect his client to testify and has scoffed at GOP efforts to hold her in contempt.

In the same memo, Cantor outlined a busy month on the floor that will also include House action to combat human trafficking, overhaul federal charter school programs, support veterans and approve the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The House will begin work on 2015 appropriations bills, Cantor said.

But supporters of immigration reform and a Republican replacement for ObamaCare will have to wait at least until the summer for House action; Cantor did not mention immigration in his memo, and he provided no timetable for healthcare legislation.

The effort to stop human trafficking will likely be a major theme for Republicans, as Cantor mentioned six separate bills that could come to the floor, including proposals to boost access to services for victims and give prosecutors more tools to go after exploiters.

"Human trafficking is modern day slavery and it is happening all too frequently across this country,” Cantor wrote. “The federal government has an important role to play in putting an end to this practice which is why the House will take action in May to combat this horrific crime.”

The House will begin considering spending bills when it returns next week from its Easter recess. The first three bills will be those appropriating money for military construction projects and veterans affairs, the legislative branch and the departments of Commerce and Justice. With a bipartisan budget deal in place, Republicans are more hopeful that they can pass most if not all 12 appropriations bills off the floor for the first time in years.

Cantor is a big supporter of charter schools, and he said the House would vote on bipartisan legislation from Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, that would reward high-performing charter schools and give more flexibility to states to use federal funds to open charter schools. The bill would also consolidate two federal programs into one.

“Every child, no matter their place in life, deserves the opportunity to advance in a school that works,” Cantor said.

With the House unlikely to act this year on Rep. Dave Camp’s (R-Mich.) comprehensive tax reform plan, Cantor said lawmakers would begin to consider extensions of current popular breaks and credits, beginning with a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit.

Cantor also said the House could consider a final agreement on a long-delayed water projects bill that lawmakers had hoped to complete last year.

The contempt vote, meanwhile, is moving forward at a time when Tea Party and grassroots conservative groups are pushing Republicans to keep the heat on the IRS and Lerner. 

The House Ways and Means Committee urged the Justice Department this month to take a new look at whether Lerner should be prosecuted, saying that the former head of an IRS tax-exempt division targeted the prominent Republican group Crossroads GPS.

Issa and other GOP lawmakers have cast the contempt proceedings as an effort to secure Lerner’s testimony, saying she could fill many of the holes remaining in their investigation. 

But a successful contempt vote would only send the contempt charges to a U.S. attorney, meaning that Republicans would be unlikely to get Lerner’s testimony soon — or ever.

Bernie Becker contributed.

— This story was updated at 2:22 p.m.

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