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Public Statements

Taxpayer Transparency and Efficient Audit 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.

H.R. 2530, the Taxpayer Transparency and Efficient Audit Act, is a direct response to testimony and inquiries and news reports that the Ways and Means Committee and other interested Members of Congress have heard about as it relates to the IRS scandal.

Part of the difficulty that American taxpayers have, Mr. Speaker, is that they feel that they are basically on their heels, that the Internal Revenue Service has all the power and has all the inertia and has all the momentum; and if you are a taxpayer and the IRS is coming after you, you feel as if, look, this is a one-way street, and they are able to target, and they are able to focus, and they are able to keep all this momentum and have us on our heels.

This is an effort to correct this problem. Every time the IRS shares a taxpayer's information, the IRS, under this bill, must send a disclosure letter to the taxpayer within 30 days of the disclosure, except in cases where it would be detrimental to an ongoing criminal investigation or to national security.

Whenever the IRS receives correspondence from a taxpayer, the IRS must substantively respond within 30 days, and the response can't simply be a pat on the head and an acknowledgment letter but a substantive reply. Finally, the bill creates the goal that audits should be completed within 1 year. If not, the IRS must send an explanation to the taxpayer as to why it took too long.

In a nutshell, Mr. Speaker, what we are trying to do is to put the IRS on notice that they have got an obligation to operate within certain timeframes, which is a 30-day substantive response; to finish an audit in a year and, if you can't finish it in a year, have a good explanation as to why; and then also to make sure that, if information is being disclosed to someone outside the IRS--again, outside the context of a criminal investigation or of a national security incident--the IRS has to disclose that to the taxpayer.

Now, you might be thinking, Wow, what in the world? That is against the law already, and this information shouldn't be shared outside the Internal Revenue Service. You would be right in thinking that.

The problem is we heard testimony--and it was very compelling testimony, Mr. Speaker--from a witness down in Texas, who described this experience. Her name was Catherine Engelbrecht, and she was the founder of an organization called True the Vote. This is somebody who decided to participate in public life, who decided to get organized and have a group. Lo and behold, over a period of time, once she decided that she was going to petition the Federal Government for status for her group True the Vote to be involved in election issues and ballot integrity issues, all of a sudden, she finds herself the subject of a great deal of interest from other elements of the Federal Government that have nothing to do with the tax inquiry. According to my information, she had 15 different visits from four different Federal agencies.

We may never get to the bottom of where it came from--where the leak took place--what was the theory behind it and how all of that came to pass, but we know this: we know that we can do something about it. We know that we can put limitations on the Internal Revenue Service that create a duty and an obligation and a legal sanction around which the IRS has to operate that says you cannot disclose this information and that, if this information is disclosed, you have a duty to let the taxpayer know.

Clearly, what we are trying to do with this legislation is to limit the Internal Revenue Service, not from collecting taxes, not from enforcing the law, not from doing the things that they are tasked and created by this body to do, but, instead, to do it in a limited fashion, to be wise, not to be abusive, not to be lording power over taxpayers. When it all comes down to it, let's not forget this: we have a system of taxation that is based on--what? It is based on voluntary compliance. The Federal Government does not have the ability to go about and do all of this enforcement. So a voluntary tax compliance system is presumed.

What does that mean?

That means that the taxpayer has to have confidence that the tax-paying institution, itself, has integrity. As we know, that integrity is seriously in question, so I urge the favorable consideration of H.R. 2530.

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

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

Mr. Speaker, we are accused now of wanting to have it both ways. I suppose we are guilty as charged. We have an expectation that the Internal Revenue Service is going to work well with the resources that they have been appropriated and be able to be responsive to inquiries, but it is an important distinction because we are saying that the IRS has to respond at the same level at which they demand responses from the taxpayer.

So, when you get a letter at home from the Internal Revenue Service, there is nobody who is cavalier about that. What happens? You look at that. My constituents look at that. The business owners in my district--the small businesses in my district--look at something from the Internal Revenue Service, and they say, Stop the presses. Wow, we have got to stop everything. The IRS is coming in, and we have got to deal with this. Get on top of it.

Yet we are told that the Internal Revenue Service cannot be held to that same standard, to that same level of responsiveness that the IRS demands from American citizens--demands with the ability to fine, demands with the ability to imprison if necessary, demands with the ability to take your property away through the force of liens.

I think the IRS can handle it. I think the IRS is now recognizing, hey, there is something that is going on, and the American public is recognizing that what has actually happened is that they have delegated a great deal of authority to the Internal Revenue Service. With the way our Founders created our system, Mr. Speaker, now these citizens are saying, We want to reclaim the authority. Why? Because the authority has been abused.

You are going to be limited, Internal Revenue Service, based on this legislation and other legislation because you abused this.

This is not about the poor. This is not about the elderly. This is not about the disabled. Those arguments are not very persuasive. This is about the limitation of the long arm of the Federal Government being able to hold you to account and my constituents to account to a standard that they are unwilling to live by themselves. That is just wrong.

So do we want it both ways? Yes, we do. We want the Internal Revenue Service to be wise with the money that has been allocated to them, and we want them to be forthcoming and helpful when it comes to responding in the same way to which they have been responded.

Now, my distinguished colleague from Illinois has mentioned the consternation and hand-wringing that has come upon the Internal Revenue Service. Here is a fairly simple remedy, Mr. Speaker:

The Internal Revenue Service can be forthcoming. They can say, Here is the information, to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, that you have requested. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee has requested documentation, particularly about Lois Lerner, who is at the heart of this investigation.

Has the Internal Revenue Service been forthcoming to give Lois Lerner's emails? The answer is ``no.'' It is difficult. It is one excuse after another. ``We are looking.'' ``We are searching.'' It is all of these sorts of ``the dog ate my homework'' responses.

Here is the simple remedy:

If it has taken too much time, if it is that big of a problem, if it is taking all of this energy that they want to devote to helping taxpayers that, instead, they are spending devoting to defending themselves in an investigation, save a lot of time--print out the emails, and send them to Chairman Dave Camp. That is how they can save time, and that is how they can save money.

By golly, we have got to get to a point where this agency is under control and is doing the right thing by those who have entrusted them with a great deal of authority.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. ROSKAM. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Illinois (Mr. Danny K. Davis) for his willingness to come and debate this issue. I appreciate his admonition about Frederick Douglass and that whole notion that we need to pay for what we get, and I think that that is a good word on which to end.

In other words, the American public has an expectation that they are going to get something, and they are paying for it. They are paying for it in taxes that, in some cases, are confiscatory--a very, very high tax burden--and they are voluntarily complying with the Tax Code. And toward that end, they have the expectation that they are going to be treated courteously, that they are going to be treated with respect, and that they are not going to be subsequently targeted by some other Federal agency completely unrelated to their inquiring.

So I urge the passage of H.R. 2530, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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