By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Rep. Steny Hoyer was one of just four House members to vote against a popular bill to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service by giving taxpayers more rights.
The Mitchellville Democrat criticized the bill for making the tax agency accountable to an 11-member governing board of private citizens rather than simplifying the 9,451-page tax code.
The bill passed the House 426-4 on Wednesday. Hoyer was the only legislator to speak against the measure, which also has overwhelming support in the Senate.
The independent board, only one element in an expansive bill with 28 new taxpayer rights, was Hoyer’s only grouse, Hoyer spokesman Jerry Irvine said Thursday.
Leaving the IRS oversight and budget to private citizens will introduce bias, lower accountability, increase bureaucracy and add up to “nothing more than phony tax populism,” unlike the helpful and responsive IRS that fellow lawmakers assume will automatically result, Hoyer said in a House floor speech before the vote.
“While IRS bashing may be both fun and easy, I would suggest that if we are truly attempting to make the IRS more user friendly, we ought to take a closer look at the tax writers, not the tax collectors,” Hoyer said.
Instead, he advocated a greater focus on improved taxpayer education and services, better IRS employee training, upgraded computers and a simplified tax code.
Republican leaders attacked Hoyer for voting “in favor of continued taxpayer abuse, poor management and tax code complications.”
“Hoyer showed just how out of touch he is with the American people today,” said Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., chairman of National Republican Congressional Committee. “At a time when Congress is trying to make the IRS accountable, he is standing in the way.”
But Irvine said Hoyer co-sponsored a bill in September with similar provisions – including an expanded taxpayers’ bill of rights, greater efficiency and timely responses by IRS agents and better employee performance management – as an alternative to the legislation that just passed.
The only requirement omitted from Hoyer’s bill was the private-sector board, Irvine said.
“He’s been on record for years saying we need to reform the IRS,” Irvine said. “We cast that vote to sort of caution people against thinking that this bill in and of itself will lead to tax reform.”