The Republican-controlled House is moving to slash billions from the budget of the Internal Revenue Service — the agency chiefly charged with implementing Obamacare — in an effort to prevent "future inappropriate actions" such as the targeting of conservative groups or expenditures for unnecessary conferences and training videos.
A proposal rolled out in the House Appropriations Committee would cut $3.2 billion — roughly 24 percent of the agency’s fiscal 2014 budget, The Wall Street Journal reported.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, is proposing a $1 billion increase for the IRS.
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The slash to $9 billion from the agency’s current $12.2 billion is a huge blow compared to Obama's suggested increase, which would give the IRS at least $12.9 billion in the coming year.
"Right now I can't think of a federal agency in a worse position to ask for more money," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told The Associated Press.
The proposal is unlikely to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but House Republicans insist the cuts, along with those to other agencies, are needed.
“This bill right-sizes federal agencies and programs that are simply not working efficiently or effectively, while investing in programs that directly serve the American people,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, referring to the larger appropriations measure.
“From helping to prevent future inappropriate actions by the Internal Revenue Service, to encouraging small-business growth, to halting wasteful or unnecessary government spending, the bill ensures that tax dollars are used wisely and where they are needed the most,” Rogers said.
The GOP proposal also prevents the IRS from spending money to implement a key mandate of Obamacare: requiring most people to get insurance.
In addition to seeking the overall budget cut for the IRS, Republicans want to withhold 10 percent from IRS enforcement activities until the agency implements recommendations of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to prevent further unfair scrutiny of groups that seek tax exemptions.
In a separate measure, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced planned votes on other IRS-related proposals, including one to allow taxpayers to record conversations with federal enforcement employees, The Hill reported.
Yet another GOP proposal would allow federal officials to be put on unpaid leave if they are under investigation for abuses in office.
Cantor said the measures are being brought up because "the public is feeling a growing sense of distrust of what this administration and what Washington is doing."
House Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to hurt the government's efforts to collect revenue, even though they conceded it is a difficult time to defend the IRS, The Hill noted.
"The IRS has a function and a job to perform, and they ought to be funded in the ability to do it," said Connecticut Democrat John Larson, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. "You can’t go out and find fans of the IRS, but there are many valuable employees who do a great service to the country. The fact that they work for the IRS — that shouldn’t be held against them."
Even some top Senate Republicans said the House proposal to slash the IRS budget to $9 billion next year was a bit too harsh.
"I would like to do away with the IRS by having tax reform that doesn’t require them,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Finance Committee. "But I’d be very concerned if that were the amount. That would be pretty steep under the circumstances, because they do have a very tough job.”
The House is drafting spending bills in line with a $967 billion "cap" required by automatic cuts that took effect in March after Washington failed to agree on an alternative mix of tax increases and cuts elsewhere in the $3.5 trillion federal budget.
The Senate, however, is writing bills to a $1.058 trillion cap, almost 10 percent higher. But the House GOP cuts to domestic programs are greatly magnified by a $41 billion shift from nondefense programs — such as NASA, education, and research on renewable energy — to the Pentagon.
The result is night-and-day differences between the House and Senate spending bills, illustrated most dramatically by a $164 billion Senate measure unveiled Tuesday by liberal Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa. The measure — which funds education, health, and labor programs — is 26 percent more than a yet-to-be-released House version.
Even as advocates for the poor worry about budget cuts forcing poor preschoolers from Head Start, the Senate measure promises to increase the program by $1.6 billion or about 20 percent. Health research would win a small increase, as would Title I grants to help educate disadvantaged school children.
Republicans say the Senate bills are filled with empty promises. Even if they were enacted over GOP opposition, they would be subject to the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that would bring them down to the $967 billion level embraced by Republicans.
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Sequestration is required because Congress and Obama failed to follow up a 2011 budget pact with deficit cuts beyond the bitterly fought tax increase on upper-bracket earners.
For their part, Democrats say Republicans are offering empty promises as well — to defense hawks upset by sequestration. House GOP increases for the Pentagon would automatically be rolled back through sequestration, as would Senate Democrats' efforts to increase domestic programs.
By contrast, the House measures unveiled Tuesday are laced with painful cuts. While the FBI is exempted, NASA would absorb an almost $1 billion cut below 2013 levels. Spending on federal buildings would be cut $2.4 billion below Obama's request and the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal prison system and the Drug Enforcement Administration also would be cut.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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