Employees of the federal government dodged a bullet Wednesday, as the House failed to pass legislation that would require federal workers to be fired if they fail to pay their federal taxes.
Republicans called up the legislation just weeks after the IRS reported that more than 100,000 federal workers owed about $1.1 billion in unpaid taxes as of last year. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), said Congress needs to send the message that it's a privilege to be a federal worker, and that all of them must pay their taxes.
"If you're a federal worker thumbing your nose at the federal government, not paying your taxes, then you should be eligible to be fired by the supervisor," he said.
But Democrats opposed the bill, and said that despite the IRS's own report, there is no problem at all with delinquent tax debts.
"This measure is based on ideology rather than facts, and will perpetuate a negative image of federal workers," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
"I remain opposed to this legislation because the purpose and intent of the bill is the same as the measure from last Congress," he added. "It would require federal agencies to fire, fire federal employees who are delinquent in paying their taxes."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the IRS already has the authority to seize the wages of federal workers who don't pay their taxes, and said the bill goes too far. He said if any company imposed a similar policy on their workers, those workers would "all quit, and the company would go bankrupt."
Democratic opposition in the House wouldn't normally be enough to sink any bill, since the House is controlled by Republicans. However, GOP leaders brought up the bill under a faster process for considering legislation, one that requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage.
The House voted 266-162 in favor of the bill, and only a few dozen Democrats supported it. That tally fell short of the two-thirds majority needed, and the bill failed.
Under the bill, federal workers would be ineligible for employment with the government if they have a "seriously delinquent tax debt." It would give those workers access to due process, and it also said a debt would not be considered delinquent if the worker had a plan in place to pay back any owed taxes.
Additionally, anyone with a seriously delinquent tax debt couldn't be considered for federal employment.
While Democrats clearly opposed the idea of firing workers with tax debts, they didn't flinch at the idea of punishing government contractors with tax debts. The House voted 424-0 to prohibit companies from winning federal contracts if they owe back taxes.
The votes came after a full day in the House of considering various tax-related bills, which Republicans have routinely done on or around tax day, April 15.
In a series of easy voice votes, the House passed bills to create a taxpayer bill of rights, prohibit the targeting of groups based on their political believes, and stop IRS workers from using their personal email for work.
Last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told his colleagues that "America is fed up" with the lack of accountability at the IRS, and said these reforms are needed.
On Thursday, the House is expected to pass a few remaining tax bills, including one to eliminate the estate tax.