Republicans intensify battle with IRS

Congressional Republicans rolled out a new effort Wednesday to block the IRS from releasing new rules for political groups seeking nonprofit status.

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House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) is one of the top Republicans that introduced the bill barring the IRS from changing the guidelines for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups until the end of 2017.

“Everyone deserves a fair standard fairly applied,” Ryan said in a statement. “And for too long, the IRS has targeted people because of their political beliefs. This bill will send a clear message: We won’t tolerate the agency’s shenanigans.”

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The bill, also sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), comes as lawmakers are still investigating the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups, which the agency acknowledged more than 20 months ago.

Republicans, having just won full control of both sides of the Capitol, have promised to boost their oversight of the tax agency, and succeeded late last year in slashing the IRS’s budget.

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Canada tamps down worries about US NAFTA withdrawal Canada worried Trump will withdraw from NAFTA: report MORE (R-Kan.) are introducing the bill in the Senate.

The IRS issued new proposed regulations for 501(c)(4) groups in November 2013, only to back away after fierce criticism from Tea Party groups, congressional Republicans and even the American Civil Liberties Union. John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has said he hopes that new rules could be released this year.

The new GOP bill would mandate that the IRS continue to use the current rules for determining whether a group qualifies for 501(c)(4) status, which state that a group’s primary purpose must be promoting social welfare. Organizations that qualify for that exemption don’t have to reveal their donors, making it a popular choice for groups on both the right (Crossroads GPS, affiliated with Karl Rove) and the left (Organizing for Action, the offshoot of President Obama’s campaign apparatus).

But Democrats and campaign finance reform groups argue those rules are part of the problem, and contributed to the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups that led to several agency leaders losing their job and to the House holding former official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. The current law says that a 501(c)(4) must exclusively focus on social welfare issues.

The rules that the IRS and Treasury rolled out in 2013 said that groups seeking 501(c)(4) status couldn’t count any “candidate-related political activity” toward their social welfare mission. Republicans like Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.), now the Senate majority leader, said those rules would have effectively codified the targeting of Tea Party groups.

In a release, Ryan and Roskam, the chairman of a Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees the IRS, said that pushing off any new rules for more than two years would allow the agency to integrate recommendations from congressional investigators.

Only one of the committees examining the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups has finished its investigation — the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which released its report last year under the direction of the now retired Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies MORE (D-Mich.)

Other investigations of the IRS, including a bipartisan inquiry from the Senate Finance Committee, have been delayed by the IRS’s admission last year that it couldn’t find an untold number of emails to and from Lerner between 2009 and 2011.

The IRS chalked that up to Lerner’s computer crashing, but Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration said last year that it might have recovered some of the forensic data containing those emails.