House votes to crack down on tax-delinquent contractors but not individuals

 

The House on Monday unanimously backed legislation to bar federal funding for contractors that fall behind on taxes but rejected a proposal to prohibit tax-delinquent individuals from working for the federal government.

The latter vote represented a reversal from last year, when House lawmakers voted in favor of banning federal employment for individuals who owe back-taxes.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who sponsored both of the Tax Day bills, expressed frustration with the outcome of the votes. “Too many members were interested in protecting tax-cheats rather than honest taxpayers,” he said.

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(Jay LaPrete/Bloomberg)

The House voted 250-159 in favor of the measure to prohibit federal employment for tax-delinquent federal workers and job candidates, but the bill did not garner enough votes for the two-thirds approval needed for passage. Seven Republicans voted against the bill, joining 152 Democrats who opposed it — 35 Democrats supported the legislation.

Last year, the House approved a similar bill by a vote of 263-114. The Senate did not act on the proposal.

In 2011, about 3.6 percent of the nation’s 3 million federal civilian employees owed back-taxes totaling more than $1 billion in 2011, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.

The bill affecting contractors, virtually identical to legislation that President Obama proposed as a senator, passed Monday without opposition.

Chaffetz predicted success for that measure before the votes on Monday, saying House Democrats and even the White House had spoken approvingly of the measure. “I pled with them: If you’re going to hold contractors’ feet to the fire, we should do the same with employees.”

Critics of the proposal to fire tax-delinquent federal workers said the bill would have unfairly targeted civil servants, some of whom could already face economic hardship from the pay freezes Congress has imposed over the past three years and the sequester furloughs expected to hit certain agencies in coming months.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) described the bill as “a tax-day stunt that continues the Republican attacks on federal workers while doing nothing to address the serious fiscal problems our nation is facing.”

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 150,000 civil servants, argued that agencies already have remedies, including counseling and possible removal, for federal workers who fall behind.

Chaffetz’s office indicated on Monday that the congressman is unlikely to push for a second vote this year on the failed legislation, but Chaffetz himself said he is not dropping the matter entirely. “Tax delinquency continues to be a major problem,” he said. “I will continue to pursue a remedy in a bipartisan way. If we are going to protect the overwhelming majority of good and decent federal workers we have a responsibility to root out the bad apples.”

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | April 15, 2013