Next up: Oversight. Since the start of the 114th Congress, Ways and Means has been focused on holding the Obama administration accountable to U.S. taxpayers. Under the leadership of Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL), the committee has put the spotlight on mismanagement and abuse. From highlighting Obamacare premium increases to discovering that the IRS deliberately cut its own customer service budget to passing legislation reining in IRS abuse, our work continues to deliver effective policy-based oversight—and deliver results.
Let’s take a look back.
Koskinen’s Apology: Protecting Small Businesses from #IRSAbuse
In February, the Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing on the IRS’s use of civil-asset forfeiture (structuring) laws to seize the bank accounts of law-abiding small-business owners. At the hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen apologized to taxpayers who have been harmed by this practice. Through further review the committee discovered that two federal prosecutors, in two separate cases, apparently sought to coerce taxpayers into abusive settlements. The committee alerted the Department of Justice (DoJ), and the department referred the attorneys for examination of their professional conduct. Ultimately, the work of highlighting the abuse of forfeiture laws even prompted a formal change in policy from DoJ.
Fighting #IRSAbuse: House Passes Bipartisan IRS Reforms
Turning oversight into good-government legislation, on Tax Day 2015, the House passed a series of bipartisan reform bills to ensure the IRS remains accountable to taxpayers. These seven bills were written in response to discoveries in the ongoing investigation of the Lois Lerner IRS targeting scandal. Upon passage, Chairman Ryan said, “These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that will provide real accountability and help make sure people are never unfairly targeted again.”
W&Ms Staff Report: IRS Cut Its Own Budget for Customer Service
This year the IRS Commissioner has gone to great lengths to argue funding levels for his agency have had a negative effect on taxpayers and customer service. In advance of a hearing on the 2015 tax-filing season, however, the committee released a staff report examining IRS spending decisions, and found that the IRS itself was responsible for deliberately diverting funds away from customer service and toward other priorities.
- The IRS itself made a 73 percent reduction in user fees allocated to customer service.
- The IRS awarded $60 million in bonuses to its employees, at a time when the IRS did not yet know what its budget would be for fiscal year 2015.
- The amount of time IRS employees spent on union activity would allow for over 2 million additional taxpayer-assistance calls.
- If the IRS contracted with private debt collectors it could increase its own enforcement budget by more than $100 million every year.
The report was eye-opening. In response, Chairman Ryan said, “The IRS has a lot to answer for, and the Ways and Means Committee is going to hold it accountable.”
Tackling Medicare Fraud
At a hearing in March, the committee also looked into the use of data to stop Medicare fraud. Chairman Roskam called for reforms to the system, saying that the agency “is still primarily relying on the pay-and-chase model to go after money that has already been paid out improperly, rather than stopping improper payments on the front end.” This poor performance stands in stark relief to the experience of credit card companies like Visa. A witness from the company testified that its fraud rate globally, processing trillions in payments each year, was 0.06 percent. The Medicare error rate is 12.7 percent.
Obamacare Premium Hikes
And just last week, the committee held a hearing to highlight how the president’s health law is contributing to double-digit premium hikes and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for Americans. It’s clear from insurers and state insurance commissioners that Obamacare is a key driver in the proposed premium increases. “The model we’re on in the Affordable Care Act is not sustainable,” concluded Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA).
And we are just getting started. What’s clear from the past six months is that it’s only through relentless and effective oversight that we can expose and ultimately put an end to certain abuses in Washington. Good oversight can lead to better government. And so we will continue to keep the pressure on the Obama administration to ensure that Washington is working for taxpayers, not against them.