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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Top Republicans Call On IRS Commissioner To Withdraw Proposed Rule Regulating Free Speech & Muzzling Obama Admin Critics

Today in Washington, D.C. - Feb. 6, 2014
The Senate reconvened at 9:30 AM today and resumed consideration of S. 1845, the unemployment insurance extension bill. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the unemployment insurance bill back to the floor earlier this week, he immediately filled the amendment tree, to block Republicans from offering or voting on any amendments. He then filed cloture to cut off debate on the legislation.

At 2 PM, the Senate will vote on cloture (to cut off debate and move to a final vote) on the Reed amendment to S. 1845, which contains Democrats’ latest unemployment insurance extension plan. If cloture is not invoked (fails to get 60 votes) on the Reed amendment, the Senate will vote on cloture on the underlying bill. If neither cloture vote succeeds, the Senate is expected to vote on confirmation of the nomination of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to be ambassador to China.

The House reconvened at 9 AM and adjourned at 12:59 PM. The House considered and passed H.R. 2954 (220-194) — "To authorize Escambia County, Florida, to convey certain property that was formerly part of Santa Rosa Island National Monument and that was conveyed to Escambia County subject to restrictions on use and reconveyance."

Yesterday the House passed
H.R. 3964 (229-191) - to address certain water-related concerns in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley, and for other purposes." Speaker Boehner commented on passage of this California water measure, "The situation for many in the Central Valley is dire, as a lack of rain is intensified by a federally-mandated drought reinforced by endless environmental lawsuits."
H.R. 3590 (268-154) - to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes." Boehner noted, "Today a bipartisan majority of the House affirmed that fishing, hunting, and shooting are important, traditional activities that should continue on America’s public lands."

Potential end to the "doc fix" may be at hand. Today, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) introduced a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would replace the broken Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula with an improved payment system that rewards quality, efficiency and innovation. The bill merges the proposals passed overwhelmingly by each committee of jurisdiction last year.

Chairman Camp said. “We have a real opportunity to repeal the SGR once and for all to provide seniors, and the doctors who care for them, some much-needed certainty. This legislation today provides stability for physicians so they will no longer face the uncertainty of massive cuts, but also begins the process of improving how we pay for medical care to focus on positive results for seniors. The time to act is now and provide a permanent solution for the Medicare program millions of seniors rely on.”

“Congress has spent a decade lurching from one ‘doc fix’ to the next, creating a new, unnecessary threat to seniors’ care each time. Enough is enough. This proposal would bring that cycle to an end and fix the broken system. Our bill makes Medicare’s physician payments more modern and efficient, and it will protect seniors’ access to their doctors,” Senator Baucus said. “This bill is the product of years of hard work, and I hope Congress comes together to pass it.”

"For far too long, the doc fix has been annual ritual for Congress. It's time to put that ritual to an end so the millions of seniors who rely on Medicare have greater security and greater access to their doctors,” Senator Hatch said. "This is a significant step forward in our long-standing effort to replace the flawed physician update formula with a 21st century system focused on quality and value rather than the quantity of services,” said Rep. Levin. “

"This agreement marks another important milestone in the effort to repeal and replace the flawed SGR formula and provide peace of mind to our seniors that they will continue to have access to the highest quality of care," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton.

The proposal would:
  • Repeal the SGR and end the annual threat to seniors’ care, while instituting a 0.5 percent payment update for five years.
  • Improve the fee-for-service system by streamlining Medicare’s existing web of quality programs into one value-based performance program. It increases payment accuracy and encourages physicians to adopt proven practices.
  • Incentivize movement to alternative payment models to encourage doctors and providers to focus more on coordination and prevention to improve quality and reduce costs.
  • Make Medicare more transparent by giving patients more access to information and supplying doctors with data they can use to improve care.
The Republican House and Senate leadership notified the media that Members of the Congressional Republican leadership, along with Republican leaders of the Appropriations, Finance and Ways and Means Committees, today called on the new Commissioner of the IRS to abandon a proposed rule designed to muzzle the free speech rights of groups critical of the Obama administration. “It is our view that finalizing this proposed rule would make intimidation and harassment of the administration’s political opponents the official policy of the IRS and would allow the Obama Administration to use your agency as a partisan tool. This would be a serious error, especially in light of the recent track record of intimidation at the IRS. It would also cement your reputation as someone who is unable or unwilling to restore the public’s faith in this important agency,” according to the letter addressed to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

The letter was signed by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Senate Finance Committee ranking Republican Orrin Hatch and Senate Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Richard Shelby.

Referring to the IRS targeting of conservative groups in the run-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, the lawmakers wrote that the proposed new rule continues the agency’s targeting of First Amendment rights by these same grass-root conservative groups.

“This rule would redefine political activity so broadly that grass-roots groups all across the country will likely be forced to shut down simply for engaging in the kind of non-partisan educational activities” their tax designation was designed to support, the letter said. “In many cases, these are the same groups that were already victimized by the IRS’s inappropriate targeting.”

The top Republican lawmakers wrote that the proposed rule appears calculated to take effect just in time for the mid-term elections, giving a “strong appearance” of political motivation.

“This proposed rule is an affront to free speech itself,” the letter said. “It poses a serious and undeniable threat to the ability of ordinary Americans to freely participate in the democratic process. That’s why groups all along the political spectrum, from the ACLU to the Chamber of Commerce, and the citizens who support them, are increasingly concerned about its effect.”

Noting that the recently confirmed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen inherited the proposed rule from his predecessor, the letter said that Koskinen now faces a choice of either withdrawing the proposed rule or allowing the Obama Administration “to use the agency as a means to infringe on the constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

“One of the reasons you have been appointed to a five-year term is so that you will be protected from undue political pressure. So, we urge you to take a stand against this kind of intimidation, abandon this proposed rule, and make it clear to a nervous public that your agency will no longer engage in government-sanctioned crackdowns on speech,” the lawmakers wrote.

This morning on the Senate Floor, Leader McConnell addressed this abusive new rule which the Obama administration wants the IRS to impose. “Just last year, IRS officials and an inspector general report confirmed what we’d been hearing from constituents for a long time: that the IRS was being used to target Americans for daring to exercise their First Amendment rights…for daring to think differently…for daring to hold opinions contrary to high-ranking government officials. They confirmed that civic groups the Administration opposed – including at least one in my home state of Kentucky – were harassed and bullied. They confirmed that individuals who supported those groups were intimidated and attacked. And they confirmed something else too: that this happened in the run-up to a national election. So Americans were rightly outraged when the worst fears of citizen organizations came to light. . . . The Obama Administration now seems to be trying to legitimize the harassment after the fact – to enact regulations that would essentially allow the IRS to bully and intimidate Americans who express their right to free speech. It’s something they were originally planning to slip by while the harassment was still going on. And here’s the thing: the Administration knows it could never get anything like this through Congress the democratic way, so it’s trying to quietly impose the new regulations through the back door – by executive fiat.”

He continued, “We know that the Administration had been working on this proposed rule for at least two years before the inspector general report came out. And from the looks of things, there is nothing ‘good government’ about this at all – like so much of what we've seen with the Obama Administration, it appears to be almost purely political. Under the Administration’s proposed regulations, many citizen groups could be prohibited from participating in some of the most basic civic engagement activities: things like voter registration, and issue advocacy, and educating citizens about candidates before an election. It’s just wrong. Grassroots groups shouldn’t be persecuted for doing the very things Americans expect them to do – they shouldn't be forced to shut down for engaging in the very kind of educational activities the 501(c)4 designation was designed to support. The idea is to shut up and shut down the voices that oppose the Administration’s priorities – and it comes on the heels of a long-running pet project of this Administration to expose conservative donors to harassment in order in order to dry up their funding. Americans who care about the First Amendment need to stand up to this regulation before the Administration has a chance to finalize it. And they are. More than 20,000 citizens have already submitted comments on this proposed rule at Regulations.gov. Nearly all of the ones I saw were opposed.”

Representative Dave Camp has introduced legislation that would prevent the IRS from implementing any such regulation. Sens. McConnell, Flake, Roberts, and others will introduce companion legislation that would do the same thing in the Senate. McConnell noted, "There’s a much easier fix here. The new Commissioner of the IRS, John Koskinen, can put a stop to the rule now if he chooses. And if he means what he said when the Senate confirmed him – the comments we heard about restoring integrity to the IRS – then he’ll do just that."

Unfortunately, if the IRS Commissioner's testimony yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee was an indication, it doesn’t look like he’s moving in that direction yet. The Wall Street Journal editors write today, “Mr. Koskinen promised in December to restore public trust in the IRS, but he didn't do much of that on Wednesday. He toed the Administration line on the new 501(c)(4) rules, promising to address concerns only ‘to the extent I have any control’ over the process. He refused to say if he'd comply with Mr. Camp's request for IRS and Treasury documents pertaining to the rule-making, fretting instead about low IRS ‘morale’ and lack of funding. The quickest way Mr. Koskinen could restore public trust in the IRS would be to halt the new politically toxic 501(c)(4) rules until investigations into the original targeting are complete.”

Leader McConnell concluded, “The bottom line is this: Americans need to be able to trust the IRS again. And that means getting our nation’s tax agency back to the mission it was designed to perform: things like processing tax returns. Not regulating free speech. The Obama Administration’s proposed rule has almost nothing to do with actual tax policy. It’s more about making harassment of its political opponents the official policy of the IRS. And that’s completely unacceptable. Remember: This is an agency that has access to some of Americans’ most sensitive personal information – with the power to audit, penalize, and harass, power that is pretty wide-ranging. That’s why groups all across the political spectrum, from the ACLU to the Chamber of Commerce, have expressed their concerns about this rule. So let’s be clear. Commissioner Koskinen: You know that the IRS has no business regulating free speech. The eyes of Americans are on you. They’re counting on you to do the right thing.”

Tags: IRS Commissioner, IRS, proposed rule, gag rule, limiting conservative free speech, free speech, Republican leaders, letter, Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, SGR, formula doc fix, bipartisan proposal To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 1:13 PM - Post Link

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jack Cunningham said...

It looks like the Republicans are begging for the rights. I wish they took a stronger position.

2/06/2014  
Blogger Bill Smith said...

Jack, Interesting point. With Senate in the control of the Dems (albeit, Obama) what do you believe is the stronger position that the Republican leadership could take at this time. They garnered a lot of public press on this. People should be motivated to voice their opinions on the proposed "new rule: directly to the IRS - please the follow-on article http://nblo.gs/TxqkS

2/06/2014  

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