WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives will vote on 10 bills this week all inspired by a single scandal: The Internal Revenue Service treatment of political groups seeking tax-exempt status.
House Republicans say their "Stop Government Abuse Week" will fight government waste and abuse. And it's timed to give Republicans an anti-Washington message just as they leave town for the August recess.
"The reason why we're really doing it is because you've seen now across the country a lot of waning, if you will, of the trust the people have in this government," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said last week, previewing the agenda on Fox News. "You look at what's going on in the IRS, you look at what's going on in the White House, you look at the spending of these agencies — we've got some bills to get right at this."
The 10 bills do include some bipartisan proposals to improve government services. For example, a bill authored by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, would require the administration to develop government-wide standards for customer service — including target response times for phone calls, e-mails and benefit processing. A companion bill has already been introduced in the Senate.
A "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" proposed by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., is nearly identical to one proposed by the IRS' own taxpayer advocate. It includes rights to better communication and fairer treatment of taxpayers.
The IRS admitted in May that it unfairly targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny. But the bills aren't exclusive to the IRS, and some are part of a long-standing GOP agenda to roll back the size of government.
At the top of the list is a bill to partially repeal the 2009 health care law. The vote on the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act is the 40th attempt by House Republicans to repeal, change or defund the health care law. Another bill would require congressional approval of all new government regulations — a proposal critics say would handcuff the government's ability to enforce health and safety laws.
The effort is replete with messaging. The health care bill is H.R. 2009 — the year Obamacare was first adopted. It has four explanatory clauses but a single effective provision, barring the secretary of the Treasury from enforcing any provision of the law.
The Stop Playing on Citizens' Cash (SPOCC) Act would impose a moratorium on IRS conferences following the revelation that the IRS spent lavishly on a 2010 conference The agency spent $50,000 on videos for that conference, including a Star Trek parody that portrayed one IRS official as Mr. Spock.
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Other bills would allow citizens to record their conversations with federal workers, allow the IRS to fire employees who make politically motivated decisions and increase transparency on government spending.
Two bills could affect civilian workers throughout the government. One would make it easier to fire employees immediately — without a period of paid suspension while the employee gets to appeal. Another would limit bonuses paid to federal workers.
"If this piece of legislation were purely standing on its own merits, it may make sense in tough times," said Rep. Gerry Connolly. D-Va., whose suburban Washington district includes thousands of federal employees and contractors. The legislation "has to be seen in the context of an unrelenting assault" on federal workers, who have already born the brunt of austerity measures, he said.