IRS Harassment, Repealing Obamacare, and the ESA Working Group

May 14, 2013 Issues: Agriculture, Endangered Species Act Reform, Health Care, Government Accountability, Energy, Taxes

IRS Harassment of Conservative Groups

Last week, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials admitted that they targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny in 2012.  Specifically, the IRS flagged groups that had “tea party” or “patriot” in their application for tax-exempt status.  These groups were subjected to intense scrutiny which many said hindered their activities.  They were asked to fill out forms that requested information about their donors.  Additionally, they had to submit information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites.  As more information is becoming public from an internal investigation, it seems that the IRS targeted a wide range of groups, including those whose mission mentions government spending, debt, or making America a better place to live. 

Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups at the IRS, acknowledged this practice and apologized for it, calling it, “inappropriate.”  That might be the biggest understatement of the year.  Targeting American citizens based on their political beliefs is not merely inappropriate—it’s unconstitutional.  The IRS’s actions are a fundamental violation of our first amendment right to free speech, and they will not be tolerated. 

I have a lot of questions about this case.  How many groups were targeted?  Is that number broader than the IRS first admitted?  Who knew about this practice in the IRS, and why was it allowed?  How can we prevent this kind of government harassment in the future?

I’m pleased that my colleagues on the Committee on Oversight and the Committee on Ways and Means have pledged to investigate this abuse of power.  Those investigations should provide us with some answers.  Bullying and harassing groups because of their political affiliations is completely contrary to our nation’s founding principles. An apology is not sufficient to address this issue—Americans deserve to be sure it will never happen again.

Repealing Obamacare

On Thursday, I’ll be voting to repeal Obamacare for the 37th time.  As this law passed Congress in 2010, Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, and she infamously said that, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”  Well, we’ve found out, and it’s not good news.  Seven million Americans are at risk of losing their health insurance.  The price tag comes to $1.3 trillion over the next ten years.  We were told that premiums would be reduced by $2,500 per family.  Instead, they’ve gone up by $3,000 since 2008.  When I talk to business owners in West Texas, they tell me once the law is fully implemented, they won’t be able to provide the same level of benefits for their employees, and they may have to reduce their workforce.   Democratic Senator Max Baucus, a driving force behind the law when it was passed, recently called it a “train wreck.”  I have to agree.  So it’s my hope that when the House passes H.R. 45 and repeals Obamacare, the Senate follows suit.  Americans deserve better than this train wreck of a law.

Improving the Endangered Species Act for West Texans

Last week, I was honored to be asked to serve on a Congressional working group dedicated to fixing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA was created four decades ago in 1973 to preserve and protect wildlife with low populations.  Unfortunately, the law hasn’t been successful, no matter how you look at it.  Once listed, species are rarely removed from endangered or threatened lists.  Decisions about listing species are driven by activist litigation instead of science, which is costly and contrary to the intent of the law.  Landowners, farmers, ranchers, and energy producers—those who work on the land every day and have a vested interest in conservation—have their livelihoods threatened by severe regulations that go along with listing decisions.  The ESA Working Group is going to look at the ESA from every angle and determine what is working and what can be improved.  It’s focused on solutions, which is important to me, because the producers in West Texas who will be affected by species listings don’t need more talk—they need results.   This working group will also be a good way to coordinate our efforts to prevent the listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, which would be costly for West Texas.  If you have suggestions about how to improve the ESA, you can contact me and sign up for ESA Working Group updates

Action Item

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee will be marking up and voting on the Farm Bill.  Last week, I told you my priorities for this legislation.  If you want to read the draft bill, it’s online here, and there is a summary of each title here.  You can watch the votes live here