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GOP stoking fire of IRS scandal with eye toward 2014

Republicans have been trying to take advantage of the Internal Revenue Service’s politically toxic targeting scandal to better position their party for the 2014 midterm elections.

And one big area of focus is President Obama’s new health-care law.

Since a Treasury Department audit found that the IRS had singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny, GOP lawmakers have been raising concerns about IRS oversight of portions of the Affordable Care Act.

The House GOP’s campaign committee this week launched ads against a handful of House Democrats seen as most vulnerable in 2014. The National Republican Campaign Committee on Tuesday sent mobile billboards cruising through the districts of House Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Ron Barber (Ariz.), John Barrow (Ga.) and Collin C. Peterson (Minn.).

The ads, scheduled to appear for just one day, claim that the Democrats in question plan to: “Put the IRS in charge of your healthcare.”

The targeted Democratic lawmakers represent districts where voters supported GOP candidates for president in the past three elections but voted Democrats into Congress.

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said the group will target three more House Democrats: Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Nick J. Rahall II (W.Va.).

Republican lawmakers for at least the past week have argued that the IRS cannot be trusted to implement its portion of the Affordable Care Act, large portions of which will be implemented and enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The IRS will be responsible for enforcing a mandate that requires all Americans to buy health coverage or pay a penalty. The agency will also administer tax credits for those who can’t afford coverage.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that the IRS has been granted “huge amounts of unprecedented power over our health care.”

“This is rotten to the core,” Ryan said. “This is arrogance; this is big government cronyism.”

Republicans don’t like the fact that Sarah Hall Ingram, who once served as commissioner of the IRS division where the targeting occurred, is now heading the agency’s Affordable Care Act office.

The NRCC is using the targeting campaign to go after lawmakers early. “Every voter in some form has come in contact with the IRS, and every family is concerned about their health care,” Bozek said. “When you put the two together, they don’t want the people involved with the IRS scandal involved in any way with their health care.”

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer has encouraged caution, noting that the audit by the Treasury tax watchdog does not mention Ingram by name and that acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfle has promised a 30-day review to determine who should be held accountable for the scandal.

“I think before everyone in this town convicts this person in a court of public opinion with no evidence, let’s actually get the facts and make decisions after that,” Pfeiffer said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The inspector general did not name any IRS managers, but Ingram’s tenure overseeing the tax-exemption division clearly overlapped with the targeting campaign.

Last week, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) introduced an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that would have prohibited funding to help implement the health-care law.

“Providing the IRS with more power to enforce this flawed health-care policy makes no sense,” Heller said. “Simply put, right now, we can’t trust the IRS to do its job.”

Henry Aaron, a senior economics fellow with the Brookings Institution, said Congress should be looking for ways to better fund the IRS instead of trying to starve the agency of money. “The idea that we have a massive new health reform and Congress is saying you have to do it without any increase in administrative resources is irresponsible, and it’s bad government,” he said.

Aaron also rejected the idea that the IRS will not do its best to carry out its duties in an honorable way, saying, “The notion that the IRS is infected with original sin because some people acted badly is illegitimate.”

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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