House Republicans this week will advance several bills to protect taxpayers from IRS abuses, including by passing legislation to cement in the law a "bill of rights" that would officially give people certain rights when dealing with the tax collection agency.
The House Ways & Means Committee will meet Wednesday to vote these bills out of committee, a move that will set up their consideration on the House floor in the weeks ahead.
The decision to move on the bills shows the continuing impact that various IRS scandals have had on Congress. Republicans were incensed after it was discovered that the IRS was applying extra scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups, and for years have raised examples in which the IRS has asked people what they're talking about, and what books they're reading, to determine the tax status of their groups.
The IRS has also been caught wasting money at lavish junkets, and the combination of all these events has led Congress to sharply reduce funding for the IRS in the last few annual spending bills.
The bill up this week are aimed at ensuring people are protected from IRS abuses as they deal with the embattled agency. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who chairs the Ways & Means subcommittee on oversight, has proposed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act, which specifies that taxpayers have a right to be fully informed and helped, and have the right to full confidentiality when dealing with the IRS.
It would also prevent the IRS from asking about people's religious, social or political beliefs.
"No government agency, especially one that routinely intrudes on the lives of hardworking taxpayers, should ever be able to ask how you vote or to whom you pray," Roskam said when he introduced the bill in February. "In light of our new majority in Congress, I am confident we can finally send these commonsense protections to the president's desk."
Roskam speaks for many Republicans who are hoping that with a Republican Congress, many of these IRS reforms can finally become law. So far, Senate Democrats have been able to block bills that contain language they don't like, and it remains to be seen which of the IRS bills can win enough support from Democrats to be moved in the Senate, and which have enough support to survive possible veto threats from the White House.
Roskam has another bill up this week, one that would ensure that donations to political groups aren't treated as gifts that can be taxed. Roskam says that issue has also plagued conservative groups.
Ways & Means will also vote on four other IRS bills, including legislation to prohibit IRS employees from using their personal email for work, and allow the IRS to release information about the status of investigations into whether confidential taxpayer information was released. Many taxpayers who are looking for updates on these cases are simply told they can't be told anything.
Another bill would give groups the right to appeal IRS decisions against giving those groups tax-exempt status, and another would let groups self-declare tax-exempt status.