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The IRS Is Quietly Trying to Undo Limits on Political Targeting, Spending on Conferences

"We're dealing with taxpayers' money..."

House Republicans on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of pushing to eliminate some of the key reforms Congress has imposed on the IRS, including prohibitions on lavish conferences and a ban on applying extra scrutiny to groups based on their political beliefs.

The proposed IRS budget for 2016 put forward by the Obama administration lays out the government's vision of how the IRS would operate in the next fiscal year, but it doesn't include those reforms and others Congress has passed.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was accused Wednesday of quietly trying to shelve some IRS reforms that Congress has imposed on the agency. Image: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

That prompted House Republicans to ask why those reforms weren't picked up by the IRS budget for the coming year. They didn't get an answer, but stressed that Congress still sees these reforms as important.

"Since the IRS targeting and spending scandals, appropriations bills have included prohibitions against targeting U.S. citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights, targeting groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs, and making videos without advance approval," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

"We're dealing with taxpayers' money, and these provision lay out what most people would consider common sense policies," he said.

The targeting scandal continues to plague the IRS, and has forced the Republican Congress to enact language each year aimed at stopping the IRS from scrutinizing groups depending on their political beliefs. But the IRS has also been wrapped up in the conference scandal, after shelling out more than $800,000 for a lavish event in Nevada.

The IRS was also mocked by both parties for making an expensive Star Trek parody video.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), who chairs the subcommittee on financial services, said the proposed elimination of reforms meant to stop these activities adds "insult to injury," especially since Congress was forced to impose them after several scandals hit the agency.

"A provision… that says you cannot target, well, that's not in the request," Crenshaw said. "A provision that requires videos to be reviewed for appropriateness, that's gone."

"A provision that requires compliance with the federal tax records, that's gone," he said. "A provision that guards against excessive conference spending, that's not there in the request."

"There's a provision that we put in to uphold the confidentiality of tax returns, that's gone," he added. "I hope that when you submit your 2017 budget, that you might think about adding them back to your budget request."

The IRS is requesting $12.9 billion in 2016, a $2 billion increase. About a quarter of that, $490 million, would go toward implementing Obamacare.

But Rogers indicated that Congress will not be in the mood to provide this extra funding to the IRS. "This Congress has repeatedly rejected additional funding for the implementation of Obamacare," he said.

One last thing…
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