House passes bills to rein in IRS

The House on Tuesday easily passed legislation to rein in the Internal Revenue Service as part of political messaging to mark this week’s deadline for Americans to file their tax returns.

Lawmakers approved the two noncontroversial bills by voice vote. The first piece of legislation would ban the IRS from using funds to target citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said the legislation was unnecessary but did not argue with its substance.

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“It’s already in the Constitution. So let’s move on,” Levin said during floor debate. “We have so much more we could be doing today in terms of tax legislation.”

But Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) countered that the House should still warn the IRS to prevent another scandal over the targeting of political groups for additional scrutiny.

“It’s still important to have discussions like this to reassure the taxpayers back home that this type of targeting will never happen,” Noem said.

The House also approved a resolution that urges the IRS to make printed copies of the tax-filing instructions book available to taxpayers for free. 

The printed instructions had been available at public places like post offices until 2015, when the IRS began urging taxpayers to download them online to transition to a fully electronic filing system.

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), the bill’s author, said the change adversely affects populations like the elderly who might not be comfortable using computers.

“It just seems offensive, as you have older people out there, some are not familiar with the internet,” Grothman said. “That, again, is kind of, I guess I’d call, elitism on the part of the IRS because they don’t need the paper form.”

The American Forest & Paper Association supports the resolution. The group’s president, Donna Harman, said that the publication “is a basic taxpayer service that should be available in multiple formats and easily accessible to all, including computer savvy millennials who are more likely to file their taxes on paper than any other age group.”

Later this week, the House will vote on four more IRS bills that are more controversial.

One would prevent the IRS from rehiring any former employee who was fired for misconduct. Another would bar the agency from paying bonuses to employees until it implements a comprehensive customer service strategy.

A third would prevent the IRS from hiring new employees until the Treasury Department certifies that no employees have seriously delinquent tax debts or issues a report explaining why it cannot do so. The fourth would repeal the IRS’s ability to spend the user fees it collects without approval from Congress.

House Republicans have said the bills would increase the IRS’s accountability to taxpayers. But Democrats have argued that if Republicans actually wanted to improve the IRS’s ability to do its job effectively, it should increase funding to the agency.

The Obama administration has said it opposes the four bills and issued a veto threat on the measure covering user fees.