The House will vote this week on a package of legislative proposals inspired in part by the recent troubles at the Internal Revenue Service, a parting shot at the Obama administration by Republicans as Congress gets ready to leave town for its summer break.
House Republican leaders have dubbed this "Stop Government Abuse Week," and GOP lawmakers can be expected to tout passage of the bills during interactions with voters during the five-week recess.
Several of the proposals were inspired by revelations that IRS employees improperly scrutinized several political groups seeking tax-exempt status. The bills would overhaul the IRS, cap spending on conferences and compensation at federal agencies and curb the regulatory powers of the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies. Several of the proposals are expected to earn at least some Democratic support.
In an effort to build attention for this week's votes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) used the Saturday morning Republican radio and Internet address to talk up the legislation. "These measures are a step in the right direction towards restoring trust with you -- the taxpayers," he said.
But a look at this week's scheduled votes in the the House and Senate shows that lawmakers completely failed to complete our suggested July to-do list, leaving several significant issues of concern unresolved until at least September.
With five days left on the legislative calendar before the break, there is still no agreement between the House and Senate on a long-delayed Farm Bill (current legislation expires Sept. 30); there is still no accord between congressional leaders and the White House on how to fund the federal government after Oct. 1; and both parties are already fighting over the next increase in the federal debt limit, which administration officials believe will be needed by October or November.
Will five weeks of separation do anything to help matters when Congress returns in September? Time will tell.
So what's the House doing this week?
The House begins debating and voting on the anti-abuse bills on Wednesday. Here's a review of the 11 bills:
1. Citizen Empowerment Act: This bill by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) would allow people to record telephone conversations with most federal employees. Current law only permits Americans to record conversations with Internal Revenue Service officials, and only after providing at least 10-day advance notice.
2. Government Employee Accountability Act: This proposal by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) would allow federal agencies to place employees on unpaid leave if they are under investigation for certain serious offenses. The GOP-controlled House has passed similar legislation for the past two years, but it has been ignored by the Senate.
3. Government Customer Service Improvement Act: This bill by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) would require the Obama administration to establish government-wide customer service standards, including target response times for phone calls, e-mails and benefits processing. The House passed a similar version last year, but it was never considered in the Senate despite enjoying bipartisan support.
4. Government Spending Accountability Act: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) hopes to place limits on non-military government travel spending and require detailed reports on conference spending by federal agencies. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously approved the proposal in March in response to several stories of lavish spending by federal agencies on employee conferences.
5. Common Sense in Compensation Act: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wants to prohibit any pay bonuses for federal employees for the rest of fiscal year 2013 and to cap bonuses at a maximum of 5 percent of salary through the end of fiscal 2015. Republicans have tried in vain since 2011 to put significant restrictions on federal worker pay, but the Senate has never agreed to do so.
6. STOP IRS Act: STOP stands for "Stop Targeting Our Politics" and the bill, sponsored by Rep. James Renacci (R-Ohio), would require the IRS to fire any employees "who take official actions for political purposes."
7. Stop Playing on Citizen's Cash Act: This proposal by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is in response to the IRS's high spending on employee conferences. The proposal puts a moratorium on IRS conference spending until the agency implements recommendations made by its inspector general.
8. Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2013: This proposal, also by Roskam, would essentially codify a proposal already proposed by the IRS taxpayer advocate that would mandate better communication with and fairer treatment of U.S. taxpayers.
9. Energy Consumers Relief Act: Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) wants to require the EPA to submit reports to Congress on the details of any new energy-related rule that would cost more than $1 billion. The measure also bars the EPA from finalizing any new regulation if the energy secretary and other relevant agencies determine that the new rule "would cause significant adverse effects to the economy."
10. Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act: The REINS Act, sponsored by Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), would essentially give Congress final say on the implementation of new federal regulations. The measure would require that major regulations be contingent on congressional approval -- if a majority in each chamber does not vote “yes," the regulation is not enacted. The House passed a nearly-identical proposal in 2011, which was ignored by the Senate.
11. Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act: This is the "pièce de résistance" of the proposals. This bill by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) would prohibit the IRS from implementing or enforcing any aspect of the 2010 health-care reform law. This proposal amounts to the 40th attempt in recent years to repeal, defund or deconstruct the health law -- all of which have been ignored by the Senate.
Before the House recesses on Friday, lawmakers are also expected to approve a plan to restructure the government’s education loan program and complete consideration of an appropriations bill for the departments of transportation and housing and urban development.
And what about the Senate?
Capping weeks of debate over the fate of some of President Obama's nominees to key government posts, the Senate is slated to confirm three new picks to serve on the National Labor Relations Board and James Comey to serve as the next director of the FBI.
The Senate also plans to complete consideration of the transportation and HUD appropriations bill and begin debating a bipartisan energy efficiency proposal authored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and others.
Once lawmakers leave Capitol Hill on Friday, the House and Senate are scheduled to return to Washington on Sept. 9.