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Public Statements

Scandals in Washington

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. FORTENBERRY. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the past few weeks, it seems as if you can't turn on the news without hearing of another drama, of another crisis in Washington undermining confidence in our government, whether it's Benghazi, the IRS, the Department of Justice, or the Department of Health and Human Services. It's hard to know what may be next.

Mr. Speaker, there is an age-old expression that goes like this: be careful to whom you give a gun and a badge.

Authority is a very delicate matter. A well-functioning government must ensure that those who are in positions of influence are committed to serving the public with impartiality and fairness. Recent revelations have done much to undermine the public trust.

Mr. Speaker, 8 months ago, our Ambassador to Libya was killed along with three other Americans. Not only is this an affront to America because we lost our Ambassador; it is also an attack on our Nation, and it undermines the international rule of law. The process by which we have tried to unpack the details of this attack has been careening all over the place. Even after several committee hearings on Benghazi, including a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in which I participated last December, a core question remains unanswered:

Who said ``stand down'' when reinforcements were called for?

Now, there may be legitimate military and diplomatic reasoning here, but we simply need to know the answer to that question; or this could have been a very serious mistake with the gravest of consequences.

In the past week, we've learned of discrimination against specific groups by the Internal Revenue Service. These reports are causing a firestorm across our country. Our sensitivities are rightly heightened when it comes to the collection of taxes. No one wants to pay taxes, but we must have a revenue-collecting agency in order to have a functioning Federal Government. It is unconscionable, though, that this agency targeted citizens because of their political or religious beliefs.

The IRS, of all agencies, must be held to the highest of high standards of fairness and impartiality. The reported actions seriously undermine the foundation of trust necessary between citizens and their government. That's why, this week, the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination and Protection Act was introduced with my support. The legislation puts meaningful penalties in place when this foundation of trust is violated, penalties that could include prison time.

Perhaps it's also time for the IRS to implement a new policy. Everyone they are auditing, or perhaps have audited in the past 3 years, must be provided with a fuller explanation as to why they're going through this process so as to ensure that there is no improper targeting of American citizens based upon their religious or political beliefs. Just this morning, a friend of mine texted me, and another one called me just yesterday, worried that the audits that were undertaken against them were due to their own political leanings and engagements.

Mr. Speaker, the real issue is this: Just how deep and wide is the mind-set that pervaded the IRS that did target Americans based upon their religious or political leanings?

On another issue, we are learning that the Department of Justice seized phone records of Associated Press reporters, including records of their personal phone lines. Now, the ability to wiretap and probe needs to be in place in narrow circumstances, but the wide-ranging nature of what happened raises a number of questions, questions that beg us to ask: How do we protect the freedom of the press?

Another problem that hasn't been widely discussed is that the Department of Health and Human Services, in effect, is also targeting people based upon their beliefs. The Department is forcing Americans to pay for drugs and procedures that many find to be inconsistent with their deeply held, reasonable beliefs or their religious traditions. When the President introduced his health care plan, he told Americans that if they liked their health insurance, they could keep it. Now we are finding in some cases that you cannot keep your doctor, that you cannot keep your own health care plan, and now you may not even be able to keep your own faith tradition. This is a form of coercion that sets up a false choice and is un-American.

All of these events are converging to erode confidence in Washington. Now, thankfully, many of these concerns actually cross the political aisle. There is bipartisan concern. These are American issues, and these events underscore why we actually do have a balance of power in Washington. There is an executive branch that

enforces the law, and there is a legislative branch that writes the law. The legislative branch also has the duty to provide oversight over the executive branch, which is a duty that Congress now is rightly embracing.

It is important that in each instance here the truth is uncovered and that swift and appropriate actions are taken to help restore confidence in the impartiality, fairness, and competence of the Federal Government.

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

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