The Senate on Tuesday set aside, if only for the meantime, a proposal to add the threat of a fine and imprisonment to current policies that require that IRS employees be fired for certain types of misconduct.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) raised the proposal in response to the scandal involving heightened scrutiny of applications for tax-exempt status of certain groups associated with conservative causes, on the same day that the Justice Department announced a criminal investigation.
“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 on his proposal.
Rubio on Tuesday sought to attach the plan to a water resources bill undergoing Senate floor voting. However, it was excluded from an agreement on amendments to be considered, on grounds that it was not relevant to the underlying bill.
“It is not about the IRS scandal, although I could not agree more with my friend,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), floor manager of the bill. “Anyone who would play politics at the IRS is doing a disservice to this Nation. I am happy to look at this law. They ought to be canned.”
Rubio did not object to the procedural ruling but said “this issue will not and cannot go away because of the importance of it.” He meanwhile introduced the plan as separate legislation.
A similar bill was offered in the House Monday by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).
“Americans of all political beliefs have been rightly outraged by the revelation of the IRS’ efforts to target certain political organizations. The fact that this could occur with little to no corrective action against those who seek to silence their fellow citizens is unacceptable,” Turner said in a statement.
IRS employees already are subject to a special set of disciplinary rules that mandate firing for various types of misconduct — the so-called “10 deadly sins.” Among those offenses are violating a taxpayer’s rights under the Constitution and harassing or retaliating against a taxpayer.
It is unclear whether the IRS has taken disciplinary actions against any employees.
The bill would clarify that a taxpayer’s First Amendment rights to free speech and free association are protected under the guidelines, and would add penalties of a fine of up to $5,000, five years of prison or both.