BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. RUBIO. Madam President, I wanted to come to the floor to follow up on the news that we have had on the IRS situation, which I know is concerning to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. The power of government is real and the power of the IRS is very real. So anything involving an abuse of power in the IRS is going to concern Americans irrespective of their political leanings.
Before I do, I just wish to comment on something that happened a few moments ago at a press conference at the White House. I have tremendous respect for the Office of the Presidency and for anyone who would hold themselves out to hold the office. So I say this with the highest respect.
I think the President today in his press conference potentially made a mistake in an answer he gave. I would encourage the White House to clear it up as soon as possible. He was asked specifically if he or anyone in the White House knew about what was going on at the IRS before April 22 of this year.
The President's answer was that he did not know about the inspector general's report until he read about it in the press. So I would submit to you he did not answer that question. I am not implying he did know about it. I am just encouraging the White House and those there to clear this up as soon as possible.
It is kind of reminiscent of when Attorney General Holder would not answer Senator Paul's question about whether American citizens could be targeted in the homeland with a drone. That led--we all remember what it led to. It is a very simple and straightforward question. I would encourage the White House and the President to echo what Jay Carney said just a couple days ago, which is no one in the White House knew anything about it. I think it is important for the President to answer that clearly; again, not because I am implying he did know, because I think if they leave that out there, it creates questions that should not be created. I hope they will do that. It is important.
I wish to bring to the attention of the Senate and the American people a compilation of stories that have emerged since the initial question emerged. They are very troubling. They extend, quite frankly, beyond the IRS, but I will begin with the IRS. Here is a report from the Washington Examiner. The headline reads: ``IRS denied tax-exempt status to pro-lifers on behalf of Planned Parenthood.''
Let me read what it says inside. It says: ``In one case, the IRS withheld approval of an application for tax exempt status for Coalition for Life of Iowa.''
In a phone call that this reporter reported he had with one of the leaders--I am sorry. One of the leaders claimed that in a phone call he had with the IRS on June 6 of 2009, ``the IRS agent `Ms. Richards' told the group to send a letter to the IRS with the entire board's signatures stating that, under perjury of the law, they do not picket/protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood.''
They said that ``once the IRS received this letter, this application would be approved.'' That is troubling if true. That is one report that is in the news.
Here is another one. This one comes from a very respected individual in the United States. His name is Franklin Graham. He is the son of the Reverend Billy Graham. He claims the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and the family's international humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse, the IRS notified them in September that it was conducting a ``review'' of their activities for tax year 2010.
He goes on to say, by the way, that this review happened after Mr. Graham's organization published newspaper ads in
North Carolina backing a State constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That is in the news. That was from Politico. Again, I am just reporting what different outlets are reporting.
This is another report that has been out there. I think I alluded to this yesterday in my speech. This talks about how the same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the runup to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year. I think this is actually ProPublica admitting that is where they got the information.
This is in response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November. So this is an admission, basically, from ProPublica, which is in this not-for-profit investigative reporting group. They are admitting the source of these leaked documents was the IRS office in Cincinnati, the leaked documents of nine conservative groups.
So now it is no longer audits, it is cooperating with investigative journalists by provided them with information which is illegal to provide them, confidential tax information. That is what this report says from the organization that got the leak.
This is FOX News Latino. It reports that the former President of San Antonio tea party said they received a questionnaire with over 50 questions, including inquiries into whom the group met with, where their meetings were held, who was in attendance, the subjects of internal e-mails, et cetera.
This is in line with some of the other stories we have been hearing around the country. This was actually posted online. These are letters going back and forth between the Richmond tea party and the IRS. These are the actual online letters we pulled, with some information redacted for privacy.
Some of the questions they were asked: Provide the following information for all events and programs you have conducted and participated in from October 22 to now.
They wanted copies of handouts provided to the audience. They wanted to know if there were any speeches or forums conducted in the event or program, provide detailed contents of the speeches or forums, the names of the speakers and panels, their credentials, the names of persons from your organization and the amount of time they spent on the event or the program. Indicate the percentage of time and resources you spent on all of the events and programs in relation to your activity.
It goes on and on. This is page after page of information being asked of a citizen group by the IRS. Anyone who has gotten a letter from the IRS understands it is never a pleasant circumstance, unless there is a refund check in that envelope. You go to the mailbox, open it, it says IRS, and no one likes that.
Just imagine this group of everyday citizens. These are not professional political activists. They do not have entire law firms at their disposal. These are just everyday Americans who are speaking out about the principles of limited government and free enterprise. By the way, if they were speaking out in favor of big government, they still have the same right not to be harassed by the IRS.
So I just want to bring the real face of this to bear, because this is not just a problem with an abuse of power in the IRS. Think about the impact this has had on the lives of everyday Americans who one day decided: I want to get involved in politics. I want to speak out. I want to say something. They get hit with a letter such as this, this kind of questionnaire, which quite frankly what happens with a lot of these people is they decide I am not going to do it. I am not going to get involved. I do not have the time for this. I do not need the hassle. Maybe that was the intent.
So we went over that for a moment. Here is something that is very troubling. This is from USA Today. The USA Today headline: ``IRS approved liberal groups while Tea Party in limbo.'' Some of those groups were approved in as little as 9 months. Bus for Progress in New Jersey, a not-for-profit that uses red, white, and blue buses to drive progressive change, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, they got their tax-exempt status just 9 months after a pretty simple and straightforward process.
Progress Florida in my own home State, similar experience. Again, this is USA Today. I think this was their cover story yesterday, where it described the difference in how tea party groups are treated, in comparison, that had words in their title such as ``progress'' or ``progressive.''
Here is one more that actually shows this kind of behavior extends beyond the Internal Revenue Service. This is from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, May 14. It talks about how public records produced by EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, in response to a lawsuit filed by CEI under the Freedom of Information Act, show a pattern of making it far more difficult for limited government groups, in particular those that argue for more freedom and less EPA, how it makes it harder for them to get access to public records.
For example, green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Earth Justice, they had their fees waived in 75 out of 82 cases.
Meanwhile, the EPA effectively or expressly denied CEI's request for fee waivers in 14 of its 15 requests--14 of its 15 requests. So that is 93 percent of the time versus basically the alternative, which is what they did to these other groups. Again, all a chain in a pattern of behavior that I think is not anything any of us ever want to see. So far I have not seen it, and I do not think we are going to, quite frankly. I suspect we will not see a single Member of Congress come to the floor of either Chamber and say this is acceptable behavior.
I wish to tie in the loop, though, because this is not just about these agencies run amok. This is not just about a handful of people in the IRS's Cincinnati office or somewhere else doing something wrong. This is much deeper than that.
I talked about it yesterday, I will repeat it today; that is, the sense that this administration has pursued a real culture of intimidation in the political process, including the way it ran its campaign. But I wish to take it one step further. What this should remind us of is the danger of government power. Let me stop there and remind everyone. We need government. No one here--I do not know any anarchists who serve in the U.S. Government, for the most part. All of us believe government has an important role to play in our country and the national defense. By and large, we believe there needs to be a safety net to help those who cannot help themselves, not as a way of life but to help those who have fallen to stand and try again.
We think the government plays an important role in our laws. One of the things that attracts people to the United States--for example, to do business here--is that we have a legal system where property rights are going to be respected. So if one says they own a piece of property, it belongs to them. No one would necessarily dispute that. If they do, they have to go to court. There are countries in the world where the owner of the property is whoever has the bigger guns or whoever has the best connection to government. We take that for granted sometimes.
So there is a role for government to play. It is a very important role. But the problem is that our Framers, the Founders of this Nation, had a deep suspicion of government no matter who was running the government. They rejected this notion that if we get very good people in government, we will have very good government.
Government has a role to play. But when government's powers extend beyond its natural limits or its important limits, we start to have problems such as these emerge. I bring this to the floor because this is exactly what we have been debating in so many instances, is expanding the natural power of government beyond where it should be and allowing it to have jurisdiction and influence over areas of our life, where no matter who is in charge, Republican or Democrat, we may not like the way it turns out.
We talked about the IRS for a moment. The IRS is going to be on the frontlines of enforcing the health care law. This is the same agency of government that has for the most part over the last few years, now by admission of everyone involved, been abusing power--at least some of their employees have. I don't want to besmirch the entire agency. As Senator Hatch was saying a few minutes ago, there are very good people at work all throughout government who would never participate in this sort of behavior.
My point is that this is the agency that was targeting Americans because they were organizing themselves as conservatives. This is now the agency that is going to be empowered with new powers it has never had before--the power to force every American to either buy health insurance or pay a fine, buy health insurance or pay a tax.
In the weeks to come, I am going to be outlining examples of why giving government more power than it should have creates situations like this--the potential for situations like this to occur. There was enormous wisdom in limiting the power of the Federal Government that our Framers had, enormous wisdom in that. That is why they specifically said: If this Constitution doesn't give the Federal Government this power, it doesn't have it. We sometimes forget that lesson from two centuries later, but we shouldn't. That is an important limit.
I think we can have an honest debate about what role government should be playing in our lives and in our economy. There could be an honest debate about that because there is a role for government to play. There is an important role for government to play in our country. It can go too far, whether it is in the realm of civil liberties or economic liberties. That is what I think the debate should be focused on in the weeks to come, in addition to getting to the bottom of what has happened here, understanding clearly what has happened here.
I am involved in another endeavor: immigration reform. One of the biggest impediments to immigration reform that I am facing--that we are facing--is this distrust of the Federal Government. It is the belief that they are not going to enforce the law. No matter what we pass or what we put in place, they are not going to do it. We tried this 20 or 30 years ago, and they didn't do it. That is unfortunate. I hope we can overcome that. I believe we can because the truth is that the vast majority of Americans--the vast majority of Republicans, Democrats, Independents--are willing to deal with the fact that we have 11 million people living in this country illegally so long as we can ensure that this problem never happens again in the future. They are willing to deal with that. We have to win their confidence that, in fact, the measures we are going to take are going to prevent that from happening in the future. We are struggling because people have such a distrust of the government's willingness or ability to enforce the law. You see it, even in that issue, rear its head.
I think it is important to remind ourselves that even if government is run by the best people with the best of intentions, it has a tendency to do these sorts of things. You see that at every level but particularly at the Federal level where there are such enormous powers.
Anytime we come here and debate giving government a new power, a new agency, a new mandate, or a new jurisdiction, we should be cognizant of the history of government power. We should be cognizant of what it has meant throughout human history. We should remember why the Framers limited that power to begin with--because they understood that power could be abused.
In the weeks to come, I know that I, along with all my colleagues, want to get to the bottom of this. We want to understand from the IRS' perspective who was involved in doing this, why this happened, and, more importantly, what we can do now to make sure this never, ever happens again, what we can do now to ensure that not just in the IRS but across the government that a situation like this never happens again so that no matter what your political persuasion may be, no American ever feels afraid to speak out politically because they may wind up the target of governmental action.
I yield the floor.