What a Week
The House Ways and Means Committee had a busy week, promoting America’s trade agenda, advancing important new trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, and holding the IRS accountable for the harm it caused taxpayers this tax-filing season. And the Committee finally returned to its historic hearing room in the Longworth Building after a months-long renovation.
The week began with a blizzard of editorials and statements of support for the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act that was introduced last week. Conservative voices and groups, industry after industry, and newspaper after newspaper urged Congress to vote for TPA so we can reach strong 21st century trade agreements that will level the playing field for American workers and job creators.
Tuesday morning, the Chairman himself took to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, teaming up with Texas Senator Ted Cruz to make the case for a strong American trade agenda. The two conservative leaders wrote, “Promoting American trade will create more opportunity in the country, and so we strongly urge our colleagues in Congress to vote for trade-promotion authority.”
Chairman Ryan also hit the airwaves to talk about the ways TPA will deliver more American exports and help free enterprise and the rule of law prevail around the world. As he told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, “There is a race right now to write the rules of the global economy. The question is, who is going to write the rules? Is it the U.S. and our allies or is it, in this case, China?”
Wednesday morning, the Committee released a lengthy oversight report examining IRS spending decisions. It found that the agency deliberately diverted funding away from customer service—resulting in long wait times and unanswered calls for taxpayers seeking assistance. As the Washington Post reported on the findings, the IRS prioritized “worker bonuses, union activity and the implementation of President Obama’s health care law over assisting taxpayers during tax season.”
The report came shortly before a hearing of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee
examining the 2015 tax-filing season. It was the first Committee business to be held in the Committee’s 82-year old hearing room this Congress, following a lengthy renovation. At the hearing chaired by Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL), the IRS Commissioner confirmed that the agency deliberately took funding from user fees that are typically used to help taxpayers and instead spent them on actives like Obamacare implementation.
Also Wednesday, the full Committee held a hearing to examine the new TPA legislation and hear from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Opening the hearing, Chairman Ryan spoke about the powerful message that TPA could send. “TPA will send a signal to the world: The United States will not retreat; we will stay engaged,” he said.
And later Wednesday, Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) introduced legislation to promote the integrity of medical decisions in disability determinations.
Finally, on Thursday the Committee held a mark-up of four pieces of trade legislation, including TPA. All were advanced to the full House for consideration. TPA passed the Committee by a vote of 25-13, with two Democrats joining all Republicans in support. After the legislation was approved, Chairman Ryan said, “Today we took an important step toward a healthier economy and stronger American leadership in the world. . . . I want to thank all the members of the Committee who helped us get here, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to pass this bill into law soon.”
And with that, it’s on to next week.