A pair of measures which failed to reach daylight when the Democrats were in charge of the upper chamber should be seeing new life this year. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex) will reintroduce legislation intended to prevent another partisan debacle like the IRS scandal and to remove certain powers from the tax agency. Cruz’s office released the details this week.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, today announced his intent to file two bills to protect Americans from partisan abuses and political targeting by the IRS. Both bills will be cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, and Sen. David Vitter, R-LA.
“In May 2013 President Obama declared the IRS’s illegal targeting of conservative groups ‘intolerable and inexcusable,’ yet to this date no one has been held accountable for it,” Sen. Cruz said. “The IRS has no business meddling with the First Amendment rights of Americans. Rather than further stifling free speech, the IRS and the Department of Justice should provide the American people with all the facts surrounding the IRS’s targeting of certain organizations based on their political activity.”…
The first measure would prohibit IRS employees from intentionally targeting individuals or groups based on their political views. The legislation would make it a crime for an IRS employee to willfully discriminate against groups based solely on the political beliefs or policy statements held, expressed, or published by that organization. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, will also cosponsor this measure.
The second measure would amend the tax code to use the bipartisan, independent Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) definitions to determine whether an organization is engaging in political activity, rather than allowing the IRS to continue making that distinction. The IRS should focus on taxation, not on determining what constitutes political activity.
Your first reaction to this news might be to wonder why such legislation is needed. You mean that wasn’t already illegal? I’ll confess that the first thing that came to mind for me are those little desiccant packets that are packed in the bottom of the box when Amazon or Newegg ships you some new electronics. Have you ever noticed that they all contain a warning on them saying not to eat them? Why would you bother printing that? The answer is because at some point there was at least one person stupid enough to try. Perhaps we never had a law against using federal agencies to target ordinary citizens because people previously couldn’t imagine someone actually doing it.
Cruz also indicated that he plans to make sure that when Loretta Lynch begins her confirmation hearings today, she will be greeted with a variety of questions as to where she stands on Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal. (That should make for some uncomfortable moments, so tune into CSPAN for that.) But this opens up another question for the audience; roughly one year ago, this idea was floated and the Democrats managed to prevent it from making it to the floor. How many of them would actually vote against it today? What explanation would you give to your constituents when you’re explaining that, no, in fact, I support the political targeting of citizens by their government?
As to the second proposal on the table, I suppose turning the job of deciding who is engaging in political activity over to the FEC rather than the IRS isn’t a terrible idea, though I’m not entirely sure how much better they’ll be. In theory, the FEC deals with politics for a living so they ostensibly might be better qualified to perform such an analysis. Also, the FEC has much “shorter arms” in terms of reaching into the lives and affairs of rank and file citizens, so the damage they can do is significantly minimized by comparison. But the FEC is also staffed up by the President via confirmation in the Senate. They have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, but it’s not as if partisan rancor is absent from the organization.
It was a lot less dangerous for the Democrats to simply keep a measure like this off the floor. They face considerably greater risk in casting a vote against it if it comes to that.