By Congressman Joe Pitts
When you pray, do you record your prayers to report them to the government? If you are a member of the Coalition for Life of Iowa then the IRS expected you to do so.
When applying for non-profit status, the IRS asked the group to detail the contents of its members prayers, explain their activities at prayer meetings, tell what percentage of their time they spend in prayer, and detail the signs they hold up during protests. Asking such sensitive questions is a clear violation of First Amendment rights.
The IRS agent that asked these intrusive questions hasn’t lost her job or been suspended. Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy over targeting conservative groups, has been suspended, but with full pay. There is little chance of her losing her position despite pleading the Fifth Amendment in front of a Congressional committee.
The IRS doesn’t have to ask anyone else’s permission to conduct an audit. They can demand heaps of records costing citizens thousands of dollars in legal fees and they can do it without any judicial oversight. The potential for abuse is deeply troubling.
Congress has a responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The reason for the Bill of Rights was to make it clear that the government would not have power over Americans in certain ways. Congress is supposed to defend the American people from their own government.
I was struck that President Obama warned 2013 graduates to reject any voices that warn about potential tyranny in our government. Even as the IRS scandal was coming to light, the President was trying to downplay what was going on. This week, his press secretary cited problems at the IRS as a scandal that the President believes to be “phony.”
The Founding Fathers knew that elected government did not necessarily guarantee freedom. In fact, John Adams noted that a pure democracy, “soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Democratic elections are just one element of a successful government. The other is constitutional guarantees of liberty. A popular tyranny can be just as brutal as any dictatorship.
We have to restrain federal agencies from infringing on American rights. The House of Representatives is working on a number of bills to keep government employees from overstepping their bounds.
We recently passed the Stop Government Abuse Act that would reform the civil service in a number of ways. It would stop bonuses during sequestration. The bill would create new rules for high-ranking officials, like Lois Lerner, who are under investigation. Finally, this bill would give citizens the explicit right to record their phone conversations or in-person conversations with government employees.
We also passed the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act. This bill would prevent the IRS from implementing Obamacare. An agency that can’t be trusted to be politically impartial shouldn’t be trusted to implement a critical health law.
In the fall, the House will consider even more bills to rein in government abuses.
The IRS scandal is far from phony, especially considering all that we still don’t know. Just recently, the Chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote to the IRS Commissioner asking for e-mails regarding the Chief Counsel office’s involvement in reviewing Tea Party applications.
An IRS employee with 48 years of service testified that he had never seen tax exempt applications treated this way. The Chief Counsel is one of only two presidential appointees to the agency. We need to why his office was involved here and whether there was any communication with the White House.
An American citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by a federal agency than a federal court. Agencies have the power to investigate and fine. In most cases, fines can be fought in court, but not every American has the resources to hire a lawyer and defend themselves. All too often, the agency is the investigator, prosecutor and judge. With this amount of power needs to come accountability to the American people and to Congress.