As intentionally spelled out in the U.S. Constitution in the first and arguably most foundational amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Because of those profound words inspired and adopted by our forefathers in the first years of our nation, citizens have enjoyed the right to hold and exercise their personal beliefs, regardless of religious or political persuasion.
Sadly, the Obama Administration has a poor record of respecting those freedoms — in particular, at the Internal Revenue Service. In 2013, on the current administration’s watch, the Internal Revenue Service or IRS was exposed for purposefully targeting conservative and religious groups seeking tax-exempt status, most noticeably those associated with the tea party.
The unconstitutional and illegal targeting had existed for at least three years and involved drawing out a usually quick process for months and months or leaving applicants neither approved nor denied. When this unacceptable abuse was discovered, House Republicans immediately launched investigations in the committees of jurisdiction to determine the culprits, right the injustice and look for other signs of fraud at the IRS.
Now three years after the IRS scandal was reported to the public, it is clear that the facts of the situation are even worse than predicted. According to a comprehensive list released by the IRS last week, more than 425 conservative groups were victims of targeting.
Back in 2013, the Treasury Department’s inspector general expected “only” 298 groups had been singled out. Sadly, the latest news regarding the scandal further confirms the Administration’s wrongdoing that Republicans long suspected. But it also further affirms that abuse of power and unfair scrutiny must not and will not be tolerated. I am proud to reassure my constituents that House Republicans have not stopped seeking answers, demanding accountability or reining in power at the IRS.
Just last week, the Appropriations Committee on which I sit approved the Financial Services funding measure for fiscal year 2017, which included significant cuts to the operations budget at the IRS. Furthermore, the bill included guidance for combating and preventing fraud and abuse. In addition, this week on the House floor members will consider the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act, which prevents the IRS from collecting unnecessary identifying information from taxpayers.
As I’ve said before, regardless of political affiliation, all Americans have a reasonable expectation that their freedom of speech and religion shall be protected. In response to the wrongdoing at the IRS, I am pleased that House Republicans continue to take steps to restore trust to the American people and prevent the occurrence of future violations.
Reach U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) at 202-225-6165.