Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 5:33 p.m.
The scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s apparent targeting of conservative groups is paving the way for a politically charged spinoff, as Republicans question whether the now-sullied IRS should be trusted to enforce the tax provisions of the new health care law.
At the center of the new chapter of IRS-gate is Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller, who said Tuesday that he would introduce legislation this week to suspend $440 million of IRS funding intended to help enforce Obamacare.
“With the recent events related to the Internal Revenue Service, I feel it is necessary that both Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services look closely at the money given to the IRS through the health care law,” Heller wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “I intend to introduce legislation this week to suspend IRS funding for new agents enforcing the health care law until Congress sees an improvement.”
The IRS plans to hire a battery of new agents whose primary responsibility will be administering and enforcing the tax provisions of President Barack Obama’s health care law. New tax provisions are at the heart of the health care law, as it will be up to the IRS to determine which businesses and individuals are eligible for tax breaks under the law once it is up and running — as well police the system to make sure that both businesses and individuals observe the individual mandate, or pay the tax penalty.
Sebelius has said the new IRS agents are a crucial part of ensuring that the state-based exchanges, which are supposed to open for would-be insurance purchasers on Oct. 1 and go into full effect by Jan. 1.
In his letter, Heller acknowledged that Nevada is pushing full speed ahead with its own exchange, and said that he hoped that his forthcoming bill “is unnecessary.” He invited Sebelius to contact him so they could work together on a solution — though he did not sound too optimistic that the administration would comply, given his unsuccessful past attempts to engage the president in a discussion about health care.
But before Heller can tangle with the administration, his forthcoming legislative vehicle faces a first hurdle in Sen. Harry Reid, who has effectively worked to block bills that would threaten to derail or delay the implementation of the health care law, as Heller’s could.
Republican Senate leaders, who continue to oppose Obamacare, appear to be supporting Heller’s approach.
“These are the folks that are supposed to enforce the health care law,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who serves as the Republican Policy Committee chairman. “I can’t imagine the American people are going to be delighted with the misuse of health care we’ve seen from the IRS and wanting to entrust them with their health care.”
Though Heller spent several years railing against Obamacare, he told the Sun in late December that after the 2012 election, that the debate over health care had been settled, and the fight to undo it ought to be abandoned.
But that was before the IRS scandal broke.
“I believe we need to address IRS funding in the health care law now, which may mean calling for a temporary suspension until it is clearer where this funding will go,” Heller wrote in his letter to Sebelius.
Heller did not say in his letter what would need to transpire before Congress and the country could have enough faith in the IRS again for the hiring of additional agents to proceed as planned, should his forthcoming measure be adopted.