WASHINGTON - The scandal-plagued Internal Revenue Service is overtaxed in its new role as the key enforcement agency for Obamacare.
Congress should call a timeout on the IRS grab for more taxpayer funds to implement the sweeping mandates and information disclosures required by the Affordable Care Act. That means no extra revenue for the health insurance cops without clear and convincing evidence of reform that will curb their abusive practices.
On March 5, J. Russell George, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration, told a House committee, "It is unprecedented in recent history, the amount of responsibility the IRS is being given in an area that most people don't think of as an IRS function."
Noting that this new level of IRS involvement in health care will trigger a flood of questions, aggravate service problems and force trade-offs in use of limited resources, George said, "They have to determine what enforcement mechanisms they'll employ … how they go about determining who to audit and who not to."
Those are chilling words considering the revelations about the IRS targeting certain political groups for harsh treatment when they sought tax-exempt status. It is particularly noteworthy because the current head of IRS efforts to implement and enforce Obamacare, Sarah Hall Ingram, previously was commissioner of the IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities division when that round of discrimination started.
The IRS was given a massive role in implementing the ACA, involving more than a dozen new taxes or tax increases, 47 statutory provisions and coordination across many federal agencies.
Implementation costs were expected to surpass $880 million through fiscal 2013, and the IRS requested an additional $439 million in its fiscal 2014 budget submission to Congress.
While the IRS spent about $50 million on conferences for employees from 2010 to 2012 - including line- dancing practice by IRS attendees and producing a Star Trek video parody - it is having trouble carrying out its ACA assignments.
On July 2, the administration suspended until 2015 the enforcement of the employer mandate reporting requirements and penalties. Days later, it quietly announced that state-administered health exchanges would no longer need to verify the eligibility of individual applicants for insurance coverage tax subsidies.
An applicant's attestation about household income, and lack of "qualified" coverage offered by his or her employer, will be close enough for government work until 2015. With such an "honor system" in place, much of the envisioned IRS data-matching and mandate enforcement will remain on pause.
The above breakdowns in the ACA's unrealistically complex and contorted implementation schemes are the clearest signals yet that we can't get from here to there without seriously rethinking the law's goals, methods, and assumptions - particularly involving the IRS.
Yes: Agency can't be trusted yet
Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.
Tom Miller is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.