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Protecting Taxpayers From Intrusive IRS Requests Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I draw your attention to H.R. 2531, the Protecting Taxpayers from Intrusive IRS Requests Act. Let me give you a quick summary, Mr. Speaker, of what the bill does. Let me give you an example that we heard in the Ways and Means Committee that prompted this. And I look forward to hearing from my colleague, Mr. Davis.

The legislation establishes a new procedure for the IRS to follow when asking questions regarding three areas: religious, political, and social beliefs. And the following is the new procedure: the IRS can't ask those questions. They can't ask about religious, political, or social beliefs. And there are two exceptions. One is a question or set of questions that is approved by Congress by an enacted law; or, if the IRS Commissioner deems questions are important to aid in tax administration and submits a report to Congress, which must include the following and be approved by a joint resolution of Congress:

State the specific questions that were authorized;

Describe the class of taxpayers who will be asked the questions;

Describe the circumstances surrounding the taxpayers being asked those questions.

So where is this coming from? What is this all about?

We heard testimony from six witnesses, Mr. Speaker, who came before the Ways and Means Committee as the IRS scandal was breaking. These six witnesses in particular I found to be compelling. I found them to be compelling for two reasons:

Number one, they didn't give up on their country. When they were being targeted by the Federal Government, these witnesses kept faith and kept hope with the America that they knew existed, and they were not willing to feel overwhelmed even though the events were actually fairly overwhelming, being targeted by your Federal Government to say you can and cannot participate in the public square. That is one reason I admire them.

The second reason, Mr. Speaker, was this. They came to Washington to do something about it. They engaged Congress. They engaged in the full committee. They gave compelling testimony. The testimony moved us. It moved me to introduce this bill.

Here was the single, without question, most compelling witness who spoke that day, in my view. She represented a right-to-life group in Iowa. She told the story of being asked by the Internal Revenue Service in written interrogatories--in other words, pieces of paper with questions written down that come from the Internal Revenue Service to their little group--and the inquiry was, Tell us about your prayers. Tell us about your prayer meetings. What goes on at those?

Mr. Speaker, you know as well as I do that our freedom to worship is our first freedom, and our freedom to worship is central to who we are.

The long, powerful arm of the Federal Government is coming in and grabbing a little right-to-life group by the neck and shaking them around, saying, Write down what happens in your prayer meetings and write it down and sign your name, under penalty of perjury. That is exactly what those questions did.

I was sobered by that. That was chastening testimony to hear that this agency, this agency of delegated authority from the people's House, has now used that and, I would argue, misused that. Why in the world does the Internal Revenue Service need to know about the prayer meetings of a pro-life group in Iowa? That is a shameful abuse and a shameful scandal that they even asked those questions.

But what does it tell you?

It tells you that there was a way of thinking, a culture, I would argue, at the Internal Revenue Service that said, We are empowered to do these things.

Well, if that is what they think, let's correct that, shall we, Mr. Speaker? Let's say that they can't ask those questions. The questions about religion, your political beliefs, and about what your social beliefs are have nothing to do with what the Internal Revenue Service should be doing as it relates to tax administration.

So these are very clear limitations. There are a couple of exceptions. But it is meant clearly to put the IRS back where they belong on the tax administration side and not deciding who gets to participate in the public square of debate and who doesn't.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

My colleague said enough is enough. I guess enough is enough if you are one of the ones that wasn't impacted. But if you were impacted by the IRS targeting, it had a jarring effect on you.

And if we are going to move forward, if we are going to have the Internal Revenue Service have the respect that we need it to have, which it doesn't have right now, there is an overwhelming level of concern and consternation about how the IRS handled these things in the past and how they conducted themselves.

The fact that the Internal Revenue Service has not been forthcoming pursuant to Chairman Camp's request for information is not in dispute. There is nobody here that is arguing the IRS has been completely forthcoming and given the chairman all the information he needs or that he has requested. No. They haven't been forthcoming, and that continues to be a real problem.

I think it is important for us to recognize that the TIGTA report was an audit. It was not an investigation. An investigation is ongoing. So this notion that there is no knowledge or there is no indication of any sort of political influence, I think that there is a great deal of knowledge of political influence that was peddled and used here, and I think the facts bear it out.

The scope of the audit that the gentleman was referring to was to focus on conservative targeting. The IG struck within the parameters of the audit. Far more conservative groups faced IRS scrutiny, they faced more questions, and were approved at a lower rate than progressive groups were.

Numbers are very straightforward: 104 conservative groups experienced an average of 15 additional questions, only 46 percent of conservative applicants were approved, and 56 percent of groups are either waiting for a determination or have withdrawn in frustration.

Now, that is messed up. If you are withdrawing because you can't get a straight answer, you are just feeling overwhelmed, who wins then?

The Internal Revenue Service wins, and the taxpayer that wants to participate in the public debate loses.

Compare that to seven progressive groups that were asked an average of just five additional questions.

You know what, Mr. Speaker?

Every one of those progressive groups was approved--100 percent of them were approved.

We know now that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that are already operating as 501(c)(4)s, and at Washington, D.C.'s direction, not Cincinnati's initiative, at Washington, D.C.'s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, monitoring of the groups' activities, Web sites, and any other publicly available information.

Of these groups, 83 percent were right-leaning, and of the groups that the IRS selected for audit, 100 percent of those were conservative-leaning. So, this idea that this was, well, everybody is treated the same way, the facts don't bear that out, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to draw attention to one particular group, a constituency that I represent, the West Suburban Patriots of DuPage County. They submitted their application for 501(c)(4) status in May of 2011. They received a letter from the IRS acknowledging their application. Nearly 4 months later they were told their application was ``in the pile.''

Over a year later, June of 2012, the West Suburban Patriots received a letter indicating that they had to answer a series of questions in an incredibly short timeframe. The questions were political, and demonstrated that the IRS scoured their Web site by demanding information that would be on their Members Only web page.

Isn't that interesting?

In July of 2012 they received a letter granting their 501(c)(4) status.

Now, the West Suburban Patriots name and tax ID number were found on a list of ``political advocacy cases'' that the Exempt Organizations Office in D.C. made to track Tea Party cases, and USA Today received the confidential political advocacy list and made it public.

Here is the point: this is not what the Internal Revenue Service should be doing. The Internal Revenue Service should be making proper inquiries, not asking about prayer meetings, not being passive aggressive, choosing winners and losers in the public square.

This is an important piece of legislation. It reclaims authority that was once delegated and has been abused, and now needs to be reclaimed.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank Mr. Davis for engaging in this debate and this discussion, and I think he is right. We are at a fork in the road. I would describe the fork in the road as the responsibility that we have in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I would urge us to take this challenge, and that is to do everything that we can, in light of this information that has come to our attention, to make sure that the Internal Revenue Service is being limited, is not allowed to ask questions regarding religion or social questions or political questions, and that we can enjoy a day in the future when they enjoy our respect. With that, I urge passage the bill.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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