Senate Republicans fired another warning shot Thursday in their ongoing battle against the Internal Revenue Service's treatment of conservative organizations.
The latest came at the Finance Committee's markup of the broad "tax extenders" package, when GOP Sen. Pat Roberts floated an amendment to block, for one year, the IRS from making new rules governing political activity by social welfare groups under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.
"We have not had, in my opinion, enough information from that so-called satellite office to Treasury or to the White House or to anywhere else," the Kansas Republican said, calling it "just common sense that while we're having an investigation, the IRS should stop promulgating these regulations."
"This is a deliberately-designed abuse of federal resources and enforcement powers for purely political purposes, and it's part of a larger pattern," Roberts said. "Unfortunately, I believe this administration is using the IRS to shut down its critics and opponents. It's all about campaign politics and an effort to shape the coming election."
The Roberts effort was only to send a signal about Republican opposition to the IRS process, since Chairman Ron Wyden has held firm to the germaneness rules for amendments to the extenders legislation. The Oregon Democrat at several points ruled out of order amendments backing policies that he's long championed.
One such ruling prompted Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to say "I know that germaneness is in the eye of the beholder."
"I do not want to hold up this hearing any more than we have. I do request its withdrawal, but rest assured this issue ... it's not going away," Roberts said, knowing the writing was on the wall.
Wyden said that the time wasn't right for committee action on IRS activity because a bipartisan Finance investigation was ongoing, praising the efforts of ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.
"Sen. Hatch has been very collegial in terms of bringing me into this, and colleagues, I just think it would be premature for us to act before we have a chance to complete what is the only bipartisan inquiry ... into this matter," Wyden said.
"I've been working to stop this target of grassroots conservative 501(c)(4) groups ever since we first learned that the IRS was singling these groups out for 'special attention' during the application process, and I fully support what my friend from Kansas is talking about here today," Hatch said. "Republicans have good reason to call this the 'Stop Targeting Political Beliefs Act' despite the administration's desperate attempts to avoid using the word 'targeting.' They want to say 'inappropriate criteria' was used, throw a few low-level federal workers under the bus and move on."
The markup had been collegial to that point, even when senators disagreed about policy issues like wind production tax credits.
Among the proposals that won broad support was a bid by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to allow tax preferences for parking and mass transit to also be applied for bicycle commuters, such as those who use the red bikes from Capital Bikeshare in the D.C. area or the blue ones in New York City from Citi Bike.
Opening the morning, Wyden made a grand pronouncement about moving ahead with the long-awaited tax code overhaul that would at least reduce the need for the myriad of extenders.
"I want to be straightforward on one point — this will be the last tax extenders bill the committee takes up as long as I'm chairman. That’s why the bill is called the EXPIRE Act," Wyden said. "It is meant to expire."