In an extremely troubling move three years ago, the Republican-controlled Congress handed the Internal Revenue Service the power to strip individuals of one of the most important and tangible rights possessed by American citizens – their passports. The Service is now starting to use this hammer.
What is perhaps even more disturbing than giving the IRS this power, is the manner by which the Republicans maneuvered the legislative language through the Congress – hidden deep within a multi-hundred-page piece of legislation that had nothing whatsoever to do with passports. The vehicle chosen for this nefarious deed was something cleverly titled the “FAST Act,” the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.”
Even if an astute student of the modern legislative process was on the lookout for such a provision as this, he or she would be hard-pressed to find it. The tool given to the IRS with which to pressure taxpayers into giving Uncle Sam his due, is found in the 32nd Title of the massive 2015 transportation infrastructure bill; it is simply an “Offset.” In other words, the IRS now can direct that the State Department refuse to issue a passport to an applicant, or to revoke one already issued, simply because that citizen owes some back taxes. The federal government can now “lawfully” do this because the Congress, in its zeal to implement thousands of pet transportation projects, needed to conjure “offsets” to help pay for them.
Much of my childhood – from third grade until graduating high school – was spent overseas; following my Dad who was a civil engineer. I grew up in locales as diverse as Baghdad, Tehran and Quebec. In those travels, which more than once brought me to countries and into environments in which turmoil and violence were present, I learned from an early age the value of being a citizen of the United States of America; represented by a small, but powerful document known as a “passport.” That blue-covered booklet, heretofore available to any American citizen -- rich or poor, black or white, Protestant or Muslim – remains to this day one of the most prized possessions in the world. Without it, a citizen can neither exit nor enter their home country. In times of trouble abroad, it is that small booklet that gains a citizen entry to the sanctuary of an American embassy or consulate; perhaps even to save their life.
Now, thanks to a Republican Congress and a Democratic President, that protection can be snuffed out by greedy bureaucrats at the IRS.
Leaving aside for a moment the crass rationale that under laid this provision in the 2015 legislation, it is noteworthy that it was passed not long after Congress found former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt for her role in targeting conservative non-profit organizations. Just a year following irrefutable evidence that the IRS had engaged in systemic abuse of its power by targeting individuals and organizations for political reasons, Republicans in the Congress introduced and passed a measure giving that very same agency significant new power with which to punish individuals. That President Obama signed such a measure is of little surprise; that a Republican Congress handed it to him is disgraceful.
Now, the Internal Revenue Service, arguably the most powerful of all federal agencies – with a demonstrated history of abusing its power -- can strip away a treasured constitutional right from whoever it chooses, so long as the agency claims the particular taxpayer owes it the requisite amount of money.
How long before other bureaucracies, eager for “offsets” with which to entice Members of Congress to appropriate money for pet projects, seek similar power?
Finding oneself behind on taxes the IRS claims is owed it, could be employed as leverage with which a government agency could deny individuals the ability to exercise other rights and benefits; such as being able to secure a driver’s license, obtaining a loan from a federally-insured financial institution, or clearing a background check prior to purchasing a firearm?
Such is the insidious precedent set by this outrageous power grab by the IRS in collusion with the Congress and the former President. And for what? To help “offset” the cost to taxpayers of pet federal projects. That such a precious right can be so cavalierly denied is troubling in the extreme.