Both the U.S. Treasury Department and the White House are scurrying to distance themselves from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s admission that it targeted conservative organizations. While the tax agency has said that the “enemies list” was the result of the actions of a few rogue agents, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich predicted Monday that this scandal will haunt President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Noting that the successful implementation of Obamacare depended on the IRS, Gingrich said that huge problems could materialize for the legislation as result of the agency’s targeting of conservative groups. Because the healthcare reform bill will allow eligible individuals who purchase coverage under a qualified health plan through one of the exchanges to receive a tax credit beginning in 2014, the IRS be empowered to track individuals’ private health information.
“Obamacare relies very heavily on the IRS,” Gingrich said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Now every American understands there are elements of the IRS that go off on their own, do what they want to. The effort now is to say it was low-level employees. Yet, those low-level employees apparently saw public reports that they weren’t doing what they were doing and nobody informed the IRS or the treasury.”
This provision of Obamacare that gives the IRS access to healthcare information has long made conservative groups feel nervous about the government’s expanded powers, and the agency’s alleged non-partisan actions have prompted increased concerns over whether the new information in the IRS’s databases will be kept private.“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics? … There are bureaucrats in the IRS who are capable of ruining your life while lying about it,” Gingrich said.
He added, “I think the president has to say he is opening it up totally and demand everybody meet with Congress, go to the hearings. He is going to fire everybody he can legally fire who has been involved in this and they have got to look at changes. How can you put Obamacare under the Internal Revenue Service?”
As Gingrich’s comments indicate, hearings will likely follow the IRS’s Friday admission that it singled out conservative groups for special examination when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2012 election cycle. Lois G. Lerner, head of the IRS division that reviews tax-exemption applications, said the targeting efforts were an “absolutely inappropriate” means to handle the massive number of applications received after the 2010 Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision determined that corporations and labor unions could raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. The ruling also allowed such groups to register for tax-exempt status as long as their “primary purpose” was not political.
Before settling on a more neutral standard in May 2012, targeting groups “with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention,” as documents obtained by The Washington Post noted, Lerner’s unit focused on applicants with names containing “tea party,” “patriots,” and other political sounding titles.
On Monday, President Obama promised to hold the IRS accountable if the reports were proved right. “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous. And there’s no place for it,” Obama told reporters from CNN on Monday.
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