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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today is an important day. It is the last day of the so-called comment period when Americans can officially register their opinions on the IRS's latest effort to suppress free speech. So far, nearly 100,000 comments have come through--100,000. Nearly every one I have seen is opposed.
Just to put things in perspective, that is basically the largest number of comments ever--ever--for a rule like this. Even the head of the IRS said he saw more comments on this proposal than ever before ``on any regulation,'' and that was 70,000 comments ago; 70,000 comments ago the Commissioner of the IRS said this was the most comments he had seen on any regulation.
So people are certainly making their voices heard--and loudly--and the message they are broadcasting is pretty clear: Leave the First Amendment alone. Leave it alone. Get out of the censorship and harassment business. Stick to the job you are actually supposed to be doing.
Let's be clear. The folks who are logging opinions like these run straight across the political spectrum.
Labor unions are upset. Business organizations are upset. Civil liberties activists are upset. Taxpayer groups are upset. Grassroots groups right across the political map are upset at what they view as an assault on their First Amendment rights. All you have to do is read their own words.
One group of primarily left-leaning First Amendment advocates said the new regulation would ``impose serious burdens on free speech and hinder the democratic processes it serves.''
An official with the ACLU described the IRS's proposed regulation as creating ``the worst of all worlds.'' The proposal, he wrote, could ``seriously chill legitimate issue advocacy from nonprofits on [both] the right and left,'' and would ``disproportionately affect small, poor nonprofits that cannot afford the legal counsel to guarantee compliance. ..... ''
Here is what one labor union had to say:
Given the history of misuse and abuse of the IRS' immense powers in the not-so-distant past, it is disappointing and disturbing that this fundamental principle has been forgotten and that this ..... [regulation] is the IRS' proposed response to its recent missteps.
So left, right, center--folks understand what a threat this rule poses to the most cherished of civil liberties.
They also realize that a group the administration favors today could easily become a group the IRS targets tomorrow. That is why this fight is so important, why it is so inappropriate to hand this kind of power to any administration. I do not care what party the President is in. That is why I, along with several of my colleagues, recently sent a letter to the new Commissioner of the IRS explaining in some detail why the agency's proposal was such a bad idea, a terrible idea.
In that letter we also reminded the Commissioner of something else: The ball is in his court on this one. The ball is in his court. He could stop this rule tomorrow. And given the comments he made about restoring integrity to the IRS when the Senate voted to confirm him, that is exactly what we expect of him. In fact, that was essentially the mandate on which he was confirmed.
So here is the choice before him. This is the choice the Commissioner of the IRS has. He can either fulfill that mandate to the American people by restoring integrity to an agency they no longer trust, he can be a hero and say no to those who are pressuring him to crack down on the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens--that is what the IRS Commissioner told Richard Nixon. He said: I am not going to cooperate with your efforts to target your enemies--or he can serve political masters over in the White House, and he can implement regulations that would erode our most fundamental civil liberties, regulations that would almost certainly lead to the harassment of conservative groups today and, quite possibly, the harassment of left-leaning groups in the future. In fact, a recent letter Representative Camp received from the Treasury Department appears to suggest that unions in particular have a lot to fear from this proposal.
So, look. Now is the time to act. America's free speech advocates are standing with one voice. Thousands upon thousands made their voices heard in the opinion process. I suspect millions more are right there with them in spirit. Some who oppose this rule picked the President in the last election. Some voted for his opponent. Some may have even cast a ballot for another person entirely. But what unites us is our love of the liberties that have allowed Americans to disagree civilly for centuries.
Commissioner Koskinen, do the right thing. Stop this regulation.
Later today the Senate will vote on the motions related to S. 1982, a bill that was not considered in committee, that greatly expands spending without any realistic offset and would vastly overwhelm the Veterans' Administration health care system. It is shameful that Senate Democrats would seek to score political points by rushing to the floor a bill which the committee did not consider and which could otherwise have been handled in a bipartisan manner through the regular order.
Unfortunately, it has become standard practice around here for the majority to pursue partisan legislation in a sort of ``take it or leave it'' manner, so it is unsurprising that nobody other than the majority leader and the committee chairman have been allowed the opportunity to amend the bill. Senators on both sides have been shut out of the legislative process. For example, we cannot even vote on the ranking member's veterans amendment--legislation I support--which will not add to the deficit. I am a cosponsor of this legislation, which provides full COLA restoration for servicemembers entering the military in 2014, provides advanced appropriations for VA mandatory accounts, improves services and benefits for victims of military sexual trauma, enhances benefits for survivors and dependents of disabled veterans, encourages the hiring of veterans, and, unlike the Sanders bill, is fully paid for.
As for the Iran sanctions language in the Burr amendment, as I noted yesterday, there is significant disagreement between the President and many Members from both parties in both the House and the Senate concerning the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian regime has carried out its best attempt at a charm offensive to forestall not only the implementation but the legislative consideration of even tougher sanctions should the regime fail to fulfill its commitments according to November's interim agreement.
The interim agreement included a Joint Plan of Action, agreed to by Iran. According to that Joint Plan of Action, the U.S. administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. The agreement is spelled out clearly to the Iranians: Acting consistent with our respective roles. The Iranians can read the plain language and understand that this Congress did not agree to renounce additional sanctions. We did not agree to do that. Yet the majority leader is determined not to allow a single vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, which could be fully debated by this body prior to a vote. We will not have that debate, apparently, nor will we vote on any amendments related to the bill before us.
I yield the floor.