Washington — In a response to the controversial IRS probes of conservative organizations seeking tax exemptions, the U.S. House approved three bills late Tuesday by Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, to reform the agency’s practices.
The bills were among several IRS-related measures brought to the floor of the Republican-controlled House, but U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., singled out the Bosutany proposals as “straightforward” legislation of the type he hoped Republicans would advance.
Boustany, a Republican, thanked Levin, “the gentleman from across the aisle,” for his support, and said, “If we could only conduct business this way, we might solve a lot of problems.”
As chair of the oversight subcommittee of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Boustany has aggressively pursued his investigation into the reputed targeting of conservative groups by IRS officials in charge of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
IRS rules provide that organizations must limit their political activities to qualify for that status. Congress pressured the agency to crack down on political groups violating the rules, but conservative groups complained the enforcement was excessive — and Republicans say it represented partisan overreach by the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama.
Outside investigators found that the IRS acted inappropriately. An IRS official at the center of the enforcement effort, Lois Lerner, was forced out of her position in 2013, and was held in contempt of the Congress after she refused to testify at a congressional hearing. IRS officials added fuel to the controversy when they claimed that because of computer crashes, they could not find some of Lerner’s emails sought by congressional investigators.
The Boustany measures would:
- Prohibit IRS officials from using their personal email accounts for official business, as Lerner had.
- Broaden the right to administrative appeals of denials of applications for tax-exempt status. Some denials are not now subject to appeal.
- Permit the now-prohibited release of reports about investigations into unauthorized leaks of taxpayer information to the victims of the leaks.
The measures passed on a voice vote. Time is short for the Senate to act on the bills before the current Congress winds down.