“Congressman Barrow’s Plan: Put the IRS in Charge of Your Healthcare. Fed Up?”

— banner on “mobile billboards” launched this week by the National Republican Congressional Committee

The NRCC this week sought to explicitly tie the Internal Revenue Service scandal to the president’s health-care law, targeting four possibly vulnerable Democratic lawmakers with mobile billboards in their congressional districts.

The lawmakers are John Barrow of Georgia, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber of Arizona and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. Barrow and Peterson would seem to be odd targets because both voted against the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”

But the NRCC justifies the attack because both men have voted against repealing the law. (The lawmakers say they would like to fix a bad law, rather than toss it out completely.)

But what about the key claim — that the IRS would be “in charge” of a person’s health care? Does that make sense? Let’s take a closer look.

The Facts

Until the scandal erupted over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups applying for a tax-exempt status, few people had paid much attention to IRS’s role in the health care law, including the NRCC. But it has an important role in implementing the law, particularly in collecting the taxes and penalties that help fund the expansion of health care to millions of Americans.

“Revenue provisions contained in the legislation are designed to generate $438 billion to help pay for the overall cost of health care reform,” said the Treasury Department Inspector General in a report this year. “More than 40 of these provisions added to or amended the Internal Revenue Code and represent the largest set of tax law changes the IRS has had to implement in more than 20 years.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court upheld the law precisely because the individual mandate fell within Congress’s taxation power (even though the Obama administration had tried hard to claim this was not a tax).

“It follows that since the power to mandate participation in the ACA stems from Congress’ power to tax, the agency in charge of taxation is ultimately the agency in charge of implementing the law, since that is the only authority by which the law is valid in the first instance,” said NRCC communications director Andrea Bozek.

Clearly, Republicans would like to raise doubts about the health-care law by associating it with the stench of the IRS scandal. But it’s a bit much to suggest that the IRS would now be running health care in the United States, especially since the law leaves the employer-based system largely intact. After all, as Republicans frequently note, the Department of Health and Human Services has been charged with writing the thousands of pages of regulations that will govern benefit packages, the running of health-care exchanges and the like.

The IRS, by contrast, is mostly the bill collector. It will validate whether people have insurance, but as we noted last week, it will have no access to private health-care data. As McClatchy News put it — in an article cited by Bozek — “The Internal Revenue Service is an important cog in the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.” A “cog” does not mean it is in charge of people’s health care.

The NRCC knows this. Until the IRS scandal broke, it regularly tagged as villains HHS and a new entity to control health-care costs known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board. For Instance, in April the NRCC posted a blog item titled “8 Giant Buildings in D.C. Obama Has Empowered to Make Your Decisions For You,” which listed HHS as the number-one evil building: “Under the direction of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, this building is responsible for implementing ObamaCare and increasing your insurance premiums.”

The IRS building didn’t even make the list.

So how can the NRCC in April charge HHS with implementing the health-care law and now claim the IRS is responsible? Bozek did not respond to questions about this apparent contradiction.

The Pinocchio Test

It’s already a stretch to attack lawmakers who opposed the health-care law for elements contained in it.

And while we can understand why the NRCC does not want to let a good scandal go to waste, it’s an even bigger stretch to claim the IRS will be “in charge of” Americans’ health care. The IRS will certainly play an important role, and questions could be raised about that role in the wake of the latest revelations. But that’s no reason to raise unnecessary fears about the tax man handling people’s health care.

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