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(Senate - January 30, 2014)

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[Pages S609-S610]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                        PROPOSED IRS REGULATIONS

  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, earlier this week President Obama 
explained to the American people what he hopes to accomplish in the 
year ahead, and I think it is safe to say that despite the hype, there 
was not a whole lot in this year's State of the Union that would do 
much to alleviate the concerns and anxieties of most Americans. There 
was not anything in there that would really address the kind of 
dramatic wage stagnation we have seen over the past several years among 
the middle class or the increasingly difficult situation people find 
themselves in trying to find stable, good-paying jobs. There was no 
creative proposal for increasing mobility or opportunity for folks who 
need it most.
  Even more remarkable, the President completely ignored the serious 
hardship that folks in Kentucky and just about everywhere else in the 
country are dealing with right now as a result of his health care law. 
He just blew right past it like it was not even happening.
  There are serious issues that demand a serious response, and if for 
some reason the President doesn't want to face up to them or offer 
meaningful solutions, Republicans certainly will. We have a lot of 
creative ideas on our side that speak to the day-to-day concerns of 
middle-class Americans. In the months ahead we will keep talking about 
them. In fact, just this morning the House Republican leadership 
reached out to the President in an effort to solicit his help in 
encouraging the Democratic leadership in the Senate to take up House-
passed bills that do the types of things the President said the other 
night he supports. Maybe that would be a good use of the President's 
phone and his pen.

[[Page S610]]

  This morning I would like to take a moment to address something else 
the President did not address on Tuesday but that his administration is 
already quietly planning to do in the months ahead. I am referring to 
the administration's radical new proposal to codify the same kind of 
targeting of grassroots groups that an independent inspector general 
determined that the IRS engaged in in the run up to the 2012 election. 
I realize it just doesn't seem possible to a lot of people that the 
Obama administration would even think of touching an issue this 
radioactive after last year's scandal, but those who think that 
underestimate the extent to which this administration and its allies 
are willing to go to keep those who disagree with them from speaking 
out or participating in the political process. They underestimate the 
extent to which they are willing to go to hold onto power, and they 
forget how speech is usually stifled.
  James Madison once wrote:

       I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of 
     freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by 
     those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

  That was James Madison, and that is what is going on. The fact is 
that right now the Obama administration is getting ready to codify the 
same kind of intimidation and harassment of its political opponents 
that stunned the Nation last year, and hardly anybody is talking about 
it--certainly not the President on Tuesday night. It is time we start 
talking about it because what the administration is planning is nothing 
less than declaring a war, not just on its opponents but on free speech 
  Here is their plan. The administration proposes to redefine political 
activity so broadly that grassroots groups all across the country that 
exist for the sole purpose of speaking out on issues of liberty or 
limited government or free enterprise or anything else that the 
administration doesn't want to hear about will be forced to literally 
shut down. Just by speaking out on these issues of broad public 
concern, they would be ruled out of bounds under new IRS rules--just in 
time, by the way, for the midterm elections.
  If you think this kind of speech is precisely what the First 
Amendment was written to protect, you would be entirely right. This is 
exactly what the First Amendment was about. So this is a hugely 
important issue, and that is why groups all across the political 
spectrum and the folks who support them are increasingly concerned.
  As usual, the folks who are pushing this new assault on speech tell 
us that it is some kind of good-government proposal that increases 
transparency, but the truth is that the only transparency here is the 
administration's thuggish attempt to shut down its critics. It is 
really incredible, when you think about it. Democrats think that 2014 
is shaping up to be a tough year for them politically. So instead of 
trying to persuade the public that they have the best answers to the 
problems we face, they try to shut everything else out of the political 
process. They try to shut them up, and they have no problem using the 
powers of the government itself to do it--less than a year after 
presiding over one of the biggest abuses of government power in the 
modern memory. The arrogance here is literally breathtaking.
  But we have seen this kind of thing again and again from our liberal 
friends over the years. They just cannot accept a public that disagrees 
with their plans for the country. They just cannot seem to accept a 
society in which ``we, the people,'' establish the rules--not them. 
Whether it is the fairness doctrine or the DISCLOSE Act, they want 
those who disagree with them to sit down and shut up. Their view is you 
can fight for your ideals, you can speak out, but only if you agree 
with me. If you are on the other side, you don't have a right to speak 
out; not only that, but I am going to put you out of business. I am 
going to use the IRS--for goodness sake, the IRS--to identify anybody 
who disagrees with me and shut them up. I am doing it through 
regulation because I cannot pass it through legislation.
  This is just one way the President plans to go around the people's 
elected representatives this year and every American needs to know 
about this abuse of power. Let me be clear. What the administration is 
proposing poses a grave threat to the ability of ordinary Americans to 
freely participate in the democratic process. Rather than reform the 
IRS and root out any hint of corruption or targeting of political 
opponents, they are now proposing to codify it. Fearful of losing the 
Senate, they have decided to double down. Instead of getting the IRS 
out of the business of policing speech, they want to make it the final 
arbiter of political speech.
  Some may ask, why is the IRS, an agency whose purpose is to collect 
taxes, even involved in muzzling speech? How did that happen?
  That is a very good question. It should not be. The administration 
needs to start explaining to the American people why it is engaging in 
this abuse of power, especially after last year. The administration may 
believe the smoke has cleared, but I do not believe the American people 
see it that way at all. I think that if the American people knew what 
the administration was really up to, they would react with the same 
kind of outrage they did last year about the targeting of conservatives 
by the IRS, and that is why the new IRS commissioner has a simple 
  We have a new IRS commissioner over there. He has a simple choice. He 
can either restore the public's trust in an agency whose reputation was 
already in doubt or he can allow himself to be used as a political pawn 
by an administration that now seems willing to do anything to keep 
those it disagrees with from fully exercising their constitutionally 
protected right to free speech.
  After recent scandals the IRS should not be getting more involved in 
what people can and cannot say but less involved. Commissioner Koskinen 
must take a stand against this kind of thuggery and make it clear to a 
nervous public that his agency will not engage in any more government-
sanctioned crackdowns on speech.
  You know, the President made what I think was a pretty revealing 
comment in a recent interview when he talked about his inability to 
break through with certain Republicans. Rather than concede that they 
may have a different world view or that they disagree with his approach 
to the issues of the day, the President blamed FOX News and Rush 
Limbaugh of somehow convincing folks that he is something he is not.
  I think a far more likely explanation is that the President does 
stuff like this. I think a more likely explanation is that in the sixth 
year of his Presidency he would rather blow kisses to his liberal base 
than work with Republicans to create jobs and increase opportunity and 
prosperity for the millions of Americans who are really struggling out 
there. Rather than let people from one end of the political spectrum to 
the other duke it out through robust public debate, he wants to use the 
IRS to drive conservatives right off the playing field. That is a 
better explanation for why ordinary conservatives across the country 
are not buying the idea that you are some kind of pragmatic problem 
solver, instead of a liberal ideologue who seems more interested in 
shutting down your critics than working with us in facing the Nation's 
most urgent problems.
  Just 3 months ago the President sought to unite the country around 
the argument that as Americans we never give up. What I am saying this 
morning is that even as he is saying that, he is also busy kicking the 
ladder out from under anybody who disagrees with him. That is just what 
this new IRS proposal does, and Republicans plan to fight it every step 
of the way.
  Mr. President, I say to my friend the majority leader, who deferred 
to me this morning, that I have two more statements. I am sorry to 
detain him.
  Mr. REID. No problem.