Domestic Taxes

New IRS chief vows cooperation with congressional probes

The new IRS commissioner, under intense questioning from GOP lawmakers, vowed Wednesday to quickly get congressional investigators the documents they need to finish off their inquiry into the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

John Koskinen, confirmed as IRS chief in December, said that getting Congress what they need is “at the top of our list,” and that putting the targeting controversy behind the agency would be key in regaining the trust of taxpayers.

{mosads}“No one wants this investigation to be completed sooner than I do,” Koskinen told the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee in his first testimony as commissioner.

Once investigations are completed, Koskinen added, the agency will deal with the findings, “and my hope is then be able to move on.” In addition to dealing with a new filing season that started Friday, the IRS is also implementing its role in ObamaCare, dealing with a rise in identity theft and trying to get a law cracking down on offshore tax evasion off the ground.

But on Wednesday, Koskinen also at times found himself in the middle of a political fight between Democrats and Republicans that’s been raging for close to nine months, since the IRS first acknowledged — and apologized for — singling out Tea Party groups.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) brandished email correspondence among Treasury and IRS officials — from before the targeting controversy broke — that suggested the administration wanted to craft new regulations governing tax-exempt groups.

Camp suggested that conversation showed that the administration latched on to the IRS targeting to push new rules that would hurt conservative organizations, and again pushed Koskinen to put the brakes on the regulations for 501(c)(4) groups.

Republicans on Ways and Means have complained that the IRS has not yet met all their requests, despite the fact they’ve been asking for documents for months.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee, told Koskinen that the IRS had only completed one of seven sets of requests from Ways and Means, one of several congressional committees looking into the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Camp said in a rare appearance at a subcommittee hearing. “I certainly expect you to produce, and quickly, the outstanding documents this committee requested.”

Democrats, meanwhile, chided Republicans for — once again, they said — overselling the case against the IRS.
Democrats have also said that some liberal groups received similar treatment to the Tea Party groups, and that there is no indication that political motivation was behind the IRS’s actions.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a member of Democratic leadership, said that Republicans weren’t presenting any new information. Crowley and other Democrats added that Republicans were trying desperately to keep the targeting controversy in the public eye for political purposes.

A host of Republicans, for instance, noted President Obama’s comments over the weekend that “bone-headed” decisions made outside Washington were to blame for the targeting mess.

Republicans accused Obama of making a premature conclusion, an charge that Democrats saw as hypocritical, given GOP attempts to link the targeting to the White House.

“It seems like we’re just beating a dead horse over and over again,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who stressed that investigations into the IRS were ongoing.

For his part, Koskinen said that getting investigators the documents they need was at the top of the IRS’s to-do list, and that he believed the IRS was “narrowing the field” when it came to outstanding requests. “Our goal is for you to feel comfortable that you’ve gotten the documents you need,” Koskinen said.

But the new IRS chief was also not afraid to push back against Republicans after only six weeks on the job. Koskinen brushed aside Republicans pressing him to say that Obama’s comments this weekend were irresponsible, saying officials on both sides of the aisle have made conclusions about the targeting controversy.

The IRS commissioner also suggested it would be difficult to deliver documents on the rule-making process without interfering, and staunchly defended his decision to reverse field and give agency staffers bonuses.

The performance awards, as Koskinen called them, would not be handed out to all staff, and would help boost morale shaken by the agency’s troubled past year.

“I’ve been around awhile. I’ve been in different government positions. And so I was not totally surprised that this is an ongoing discussion by committee members about where the investigations have been and where they’re going,” Koskinen told reporters after the hearing.

Tags Charles Boustany

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