This post has been updated
There is no love lost between Republicans in Congress and the Internal Revenue Service, whether it’s their dislike for the tax code, the current tax commissioner or their fury at the agency’s treatment a few years ago of conservative groups.
With many lawmakers still smarting over that controversy, the GOP used the budget deal reached by House and Senate negotiators this week to tighten the reins on the IRS with a series of little-noticed Mother-May-I provisions.
They’re largely symbolic. But they speak loudly.
The budget now prohibits the agency from producing videos at conferences unless they are approved in advance by a special board, punishment for a Star Trek parody made for a lavish training conference in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010, with an official starring as Mr. Spock.
The IRS cannot give a bonus or award to any employee — or one who’s been rehired — if they owe a cent in back federal taxes, punishment for watchdog reports showing that some employees owe back taxes and are not penalized.
The IRS must train every employee in “dealing courteously with taxpayers,” “cross-cultural relations,” ethics and the “impartial application of tax law.”
Its employees must not use personal email accounts for work communications, a practice that got both Hillary Clinton and Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the scandal over tax-exempt groups in trouble.
The IRS must now report to Congress on how much it spends on salaries of full-time union officials, who are paid by taxpayers.
And it cannot target groups for scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs, new language repeated in three separate provisions of the bill.
Republicans investigated the IRS for more than two years after agents were discovered to have subjected conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status to additional scrutiny. In October, they moved to impeach Commissioner John Koskinen, days after the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the scandal without filing criminal charges. They accused him of erasing back-up tapes containing thousands of emails written by Lerner.
After the budget deal was announced this week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) crowed in a press release, “The House is Reining in the IRS.”
“House Republicans have worked since the IRS scandal to rein in this unaccountable agency and make sure no American citizen has their fundamental rights infringed upon,” McCarthy wrote. “In the upcoming spending bill, we put severe constraints on the IRS to stop the abuse.”
“Congress has taken oversight and accountability from the IRS very seriously,” said a Senate aide who is familiar with the crafting of the new policies.
Democrats did not rush to condemn the new budget provisions. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the top Democrat on the oversight panel of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he generally agreed with them.
”There has always been bipartisan, nonpartisan support to protect taxpayers’ rights to fair, just, and timely treatment,” Lewis said in a statement. “These provisions are not new and, in general, are reasonable.
IRS officials did not respond to a request for comment.