(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) introduced the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination & Protection Act of 2013 on Tuesday that would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code, making it a crime for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to discriminate against anyone (individual or group) based on their constitutionally protected rights of political speech and expression. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced similar legislation on Wednesday.
"Americans of all political beliefs have been rightly outraged by the revelation of the IRS' efforts to target certain political organizations," said Turner in a statement. "The fact that this could occur with little to no corrective action against those who seek to silence their fellow citizens is unacceptable. That's why I'm taking immediate action and introducing this bill."
IRS employees are already prohibited from discriminating against individuals and groups based on protected speech, but this bill would increase the penalty IRS employees could receive. If signed into law, employees, would face a fine of up to $5,000, five years in prison, or both.
This legislation is a swift response to facts reported on by the Associated Press that IRS officials were targeting conservative groups as early as June 2011 – at least nine months prior to when the IRS told lawmakers that no such targeting was occurring. An IRS official recently acknowledged that the agency had in fact flagged 75 conservative groups for scrutinized review because their names included "tea party" or "patriot."
"A government organization like the IRS discriminating against political organizations is an outrageous abuse of power, and the American people have every right to demand answers and accountability," Rubio said in a statement. "Those responsible individuals should face all appropriate punishment available under current law, and all organizations and individuals who engage in political speech and expression should be protected against this kind of discriminatory behavior in the future. I commend Congressman Turner for championing this legislation in the House and hope our colleagues will join us in providing protections to deter this kind of governmental abuse from happening again."
Rubio also sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew demanding the resignation of the current IRS Commissioner. "The American people deserve answers about how such seemingly unconstitutional and potentially criminal behavior could occur, and who else was aware of it throughout the Administration," Rubio wrote. "If investigations reveal that bureaucrats or political appointees engaged in unconstitutional or criminal targeting of conservative taxpayers, they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
In the wake of this scandal, two congressional hearings will be held. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on Friday to "get to the bottom of this situation," its chairman, Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said in a May 10 statement.
Politico reports that there are five separate committees investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. There is a congressional probe into Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who raised millions of dollars to promote Obamacare by companies the government was regulating.
In fact, roughly one-third of House committees are investigating the Obama administration. Speaker of the House John Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, expressed that this level of investigation was necessary. He told Politico that "the speaker and other House leaders have been clear: Effective, responsible oversight is a key constitutional responsibility of Congress. Whether the topic is the truth about Benghazi, thuggish political attacks from the IRS, or the 'train wreck' of the president's health care law, we will keeping fighting to make sure the American people know the truth."