Debate Center: The IRS may need some health care after the recent beating it has taken
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has hardly been a favorite government agency among Americans, and now it is clearly in trouble over the controversy involving its interpretive role in determining whether certain groups would be eligible for tax-exempt status. Investigations have revealed the IRS has been extra rigorous in analyzing conservative groups, such as the Tea Party, based on those groups’ political bearings. The IRS further contacted those groups with questions searching for information about their positions on political issues. To make these latest reports more contentious, the IRS is the agency that will administer the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Under the ACA, the IRS will determine who is covered and who is not, and it will also determine who gets subsidies. The IRS will implement and track this through new provisions in the tax code. The IRS is also charged with imposing penalties for noncompliance on those uninsured people who do not purchase health insurance. Additionally, the IRS will levy penalties on companies of 50 or more employees that do not provide affordable and qualified health insurance, and it will be the job of the IRS to set up rules and guidance for creating and collecting those penalties. The person who will head the ACA office is Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS official who led the office during the recent period in which conservative groups were scrutinized over tax-exempt status. These developments have stirred some debate.
Opposition to the IRS’ role in the ACA has increased dramatically since stories surfaced about the IRS’ inappropriate targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. As a result, some opponents see a potential “train wreck” down the road. Based on recent events, opponents say the IRS should not be trusted with its power regarding the creation and enforcement of health care provisions, at least until a federal investigation has been completed. They further support their stance by saying it is an outrage to have Ingram run the ACA because the recent IRS events happened under her leadership.
On the other hand, supporters will note the IRS’ role in health care reform has been established since the ACA was created in 2010 and thus predates the current IRS scandal. Further, supporters say the ACA introduces or alters tax code provisions in a scope not seen in many years, and the IRS is the natural agency to deal with such tax issues. Besides all that, supporters claim the IRS will deal with rules and penalties the same way it deals with income and tax withholding, and law prevents the IRS from placing liens on property or other holdings. As for Ingram, her supporters say she is an IRS expert in dealing with non-profits and ACA leaders must work closely with non-profit hospitals and other entities.
Long held mistrust in the IRS and its recent problems dealing with groups wanting tax-exempt status have people wary of its role as rule maker and issuer of penalties under the ACA. Supporters of the IRS in this capacity say its role has been established for three years, and if not the IRS, they ask, then who can do it?
Debate Forum Question of the Week:
Given the IRS’s recent failure to properly interpret established provisions governing an organization’s eligibility for non-profit status, should the IRS retain its upcoming interpretive role when it comes to determining and collecting the penalties that will go into effect once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) becomes law in 2014? Further, should Sarah Hall Ingram continue her leadership role as director of the IRS ACA office?
Debate Left: Conspiracy leery
I understand that citizens of this country are outraged by the actions of a few IRS officials. I’m outraged, too, despite the fact that I think the Tea Party is a sad, wallowing assortment of plaque fragments coagulating around a certain duncy individual who believes that irony is something that only applies to other people.
I’ll say it again: I’m a liberal, I understand, and I’m outraged, too. There is no power more warily conceded to the government than that of tax collection. The IRS was already the poster child of government power and suspicion because, other than parking attendants, they are the organization that most asserts government power over our ability to feed and clothe ourselves. Every April, as hundreds of millions of us run an impenetrable gauntlet of bureaucracy in a pathetic attempt to gain the approval of TurboTax, the two-word shriek regarding the private sexual activities and marital status of the IRS employees’ parents is easily detected by spacecraft on Mars. To then find out that elements of that organization are treating some of us inequitably is a supreme violation of civic trust and inevitably leads to speculation as to the extent that those sexual acts are being performed on the rest of us.
However, the fact that this has occurred does not give you license to ball gag your critical faculties in order to bring your inner conspiracy theorist to orgasm.
It is stultifyingly obvious that the IRS is the only government agency capable of collecting the information from businesses and individuals necessary to determine those qualified for tax breaks or penalties regarding compliance with the Affordable Care Act. This has been the plan since day one, and its preparation for this task has been in the works for years. It is also obvious that they should be assessing the penalties for noncompliance, because compiling data and assessing financial liability on a national scale is the definition of their job. They are the first, best and most obvious choice.
In regards to their worthiness of this duty in light of the recent scandal, I don’t see anything that leads me to believe they are now incapable. The improprieties were perpetrated by a very small number of people, and acting Commissioner of the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division Steven Miller, who failed to take action when he was notified of the problem, has been fired.
Great. And what does this have to do with Sarah Hall Ingram?
That would be: nothing.
She was no longer the person overseeing the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division when these things came to light. By 2010, Ms. Ingram was involved with the Affordable Care Act division, and Steven Miller was in full control of the Tax Exempt office. She had no involvement with the Tax Exempt office at all after early 2012 when the information about the improprieties hit the desk of the commissioner’s office.
Finally, there is precisely zero evidence to suggest that she knew anything about the scandal before it hit, or that her title as commissioner was anything but a name tag by that time. She is far and away the most logical choice to head up the new Affordable Care Act division because of her office’s experience with tax issues regarding hospitals in recent years, and there is no reason to suspect that she would perform her duties in a way that would be suspect.
Of course, the conservative media has dined on the fact that she has received over $100,000 worth of bonuses during her tenure as Commissioner of the Tax Exempt office. For four of those years, her bonuses were large enough – over $25,000 – that it required presidential approval.
Big whoop! Over 97,000 government employees receive bonuses every year, and many of them are large enough to warrant Obama’s signature. Now I don’t know much, but I do know this: Obama is a busy man. Bush was a busy man. Clinton was a … very busy man. All of them signed off on bonuses on this scale. I guarantee that the total amount of time they spent addressing any individual bonus request presented to them was the time it took to recall if they’d heard anything bad about this person plus the time it took to sign it.
I know all this looks suspicious, but there is simply no fire here. Plans on the grand scale of the Affordable Care Act should not be abandoned because a few douchebags did some idiotic things, and uninvolved individuals should not be indicted because they happen to work in the same office. Nothing about these circumstances in any way shape or form suggests that Sarah Hall Ingram is either responsible for the situation or that confidence in her ability to perform her job ethically and responsibly has been compromised.
Even if it gets you off.
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at
Debate Right: The IRS is now in charge of interpreting Obamacare – What could possibly go wrong?!
By Dave Landon
Let me get this straight. Sarah Hall Ingram, who presided over the IRS Division that has been caught red-handed violating the constitutional rights of hundreds of conservative non-profit organizations and thousands of American citizens, is now in charge of the IRS Division charged with enforcement of the Affordable Care Act – more affectionately known as “Obamacare.” Are you kidding me? What could possibly go wrong?
One of our most basic rights as American citizens is provided by the First Amendment to the Constitution, providing among other things the right to free speech and assembly. Let’s be clear about the goal of the IRS Determinations Unit: the goal was to disrupt and intimidate those conservative groups who were organizing and speaking out against the Obama administration’s policies on spending and healthcare. As the president’s plans for growing the size and scope of the federal government became clear, the Tea Party movement came to life. As part of organizing their movement, Tea Party groups across the country attempted to form 501(c) 4 tax-exempt organizations. Such designation had numerous benefits for those forming under such a banner. Obama’s IRS was very aware of those advantages and was determined to harass, intimidate and block their anti-spending agenda under the color of law.
Sarah Hall Ingram has been an employee of the IRS since 1982 and was named commissioner of the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division in 2009. ABC News reported last week that she held the job though 2012. The IRS, however, tells CNN that Ingram left for the Affordable Care Act division in December 2010. The Determinations Unit of the IRS started singling out Tea Party applicants for 501(c) 4 tax-exempt status in mid-2010, putting Ingram in charge of the broader division when the scandal began.
The trigger for increased scrutiny according to the report released last month by the IG, went beyond group names such as “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12 Project.” Also referenced in the case file were much broader concepts that would generate enhanced scrutiny, such as government spending, government debt or taxes. Another example of what type of organizational goal would cause additional scrutiny would be attempts to educate the public by advocacy or lobbying to “make America a better place to live” or simply criticizing how the country was being run. The bottom line was that if your group opposed the Obama agenda, the IRS Determinations Unit would make obtaining your 501(c) 4 status difficult.
On the heels of the revelation that Sarah Hall Ingram is now in charge of the IRS unit charged with the enforcement of penalties for those in non-compliance with Obamacare, we have now learned that former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman visited the White House 147 times during his tenure between 2010 and 2012. He was there more times than any other cabinet member during Obama’s time in office so far. He’s probably been there more than any IRS Commissioner in history. The only government employees with more trips to the White House than Shulman would be the tour guides who work there every day. This is critical because Shulman has testified that he never told the higher-ups at the White House about the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. During 147 visits, many with top White House officials, we are expected to believe that there was never a mention of the discovery that the IRS had been systematically violating the constitutional rights of Americans who disagreed with the president’s agenda. This is so unlikely it verges on the impossible. There were several inquiries about the targeting taking place on Capitol Hill. A number of members of Congress were writing letters to Shulman demanding to know if such targeting existed. Shulman expects us to believe that he never mentioned it the White House.
Here’s the tipping point: there are now increasing reports that not only were the conservative groups targeted, but individuals within those groups were also the target of enhanced IRS scrutiny. If this trend continues, this matter will drag this administration into a quagmire of recriminations from which it will not recover.
I’m not sure if the administration directed the harassment and intimidation of conservative groups by the IRS. I do believe that the evidence of the practice was brought to the attention of the administration long before the November 2012 re-election of the president and at all costs this information could not be allowed to see the light of day until the election was over. If Sarah Hall Ingram didn’t know of the practice, which is hard to believe, she damned well should have known. She therefore cannot be trusted to make value judgments about whether or not our insurance plans comply with Obamacare’s regulations. Ingram has to go.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.