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Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


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

H.R. 2768 is entitled the ``Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2013.'' What it does is address a fundamental question. There was an ambiguity, apparently, Mr. Speaker, in the testimony that you heard in the Ways and Means Committee and that the ranking member heard in the Ways and Means Committee and in some other testimony that we've heard from the other body, which is this: Who is responsible for having an understanding of what's going on at the Internal Revenue Service? Who is responsible for the missteps and the mishaps and so forth?

There was a theme that we heard from a couple of folks who you would have thought would have said that the responsibility was theirs, but they weren't really willing to take the responsibility. Here is what I mean by that. There currently exists 10 enumerated rights in the statute, and let me just quickly run through these. It's important that we look at this as a foundation upon which we have an expectation that the Internal Revenue Service is operating:

Taxpayers have the right to be informed, the right to be assisted, the right to be heard, the right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax, the right of appeal, the right of certainty, the right of privacy, the right of confidentiality, the right to representation, and the right to a fair and just tax system.

That's current law, but here is where parts of things get lost in the shuffle in that, apparently, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service doesn't view that as that person's responsibility to make sure, A, that the Commissioner knows it and, B, that other employees know it.

So what we are doing today, what we are proposing to the House today, is to put this in a place in the statute that unambiguously says that this is the responsibility of the Commissioner's. I alluded to a couple of quotes before, and I want to walk through them with you just briefly and put it in this context:

What we are talking about, Mr. Speaker, are fundamental rights that are foundational and that the Congress has put into the Internal Revenue Code to make sure that taxpayers are protected. This is settled ground. This is common knowledge. This is a general understanding. There is no new ground. Nobody is hunting out ahead of the pack here. This is a very solid doctrine, these 10 enumerated rights.

The former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Douglas Shulman, said before the Finance Committee in the other body on May 21:

I certainly am not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it. What I know, with the full facts that are out, is from the inspector general's report, which doesn't say I'm responsible for that.
With that said, this happened on my watch, and I very much regret that it happened on my watch.

He also said this:

I had a partial set of facts, and I knew that the inspector general was going to be looking into it, and I knew that it was going to be stopped. Sitting there then and sitting here today, I think I made the right decision, which is to let the inspector general get to the bottom of it, chase down all the facts, and then make his findings public.

We heard, in the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Speaker, from the former Acting Commissioner, Steven Miller. He said this:

I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection. The listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake and was not an act of partisanship.

Can you imagine how we would all be feeling if somebody came and there was an officer of the law who said, Well, I know I'm supposed to read Miranda rights. I know that's what the law says. I know it's settled doctrine. I know that that's what a defendant expects. But I was busy. I had a heavy workload. So I chose not to Mirandize the defendant. I just figured I didn't have enough time.

There are so many things that are going on in this IRS story, there are so many components and elements of it, much of this is actually things that we have yet to learn. I think we're marveling every day at new facts that are coming out, and I think the House has been very disciplined, frankly, in letting the facts speak for themselves. But there is a fact, and here it is: there is ambiguity about who is in charge at the IRS; there is ambiguity about who is responsible at the IRS. And when the IRS commissioners, both of these recent appointees--not the current one, but both recent appointees--have the sense of, Well, the responsibility belongs here and the responsibility belongs there, I think it is incumbent on the House to say, No, the responsibility for this lies with the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and that's what the plain language of this bill does.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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