WASHINGTON Oct 8 The U.S. Internal Revenue
Service executive in charge of enforcing President Barack
Obama's new healthcare law will be the lone witness on Wednesday
before a congressional panel run by Republicans resolutely
opposed to the law.
As if that were not daunting enough, Sarah Hall Ingram also
likely will be questioned by Republicans about her previous IRS
job. She headed the IRS tax-exempt division at the time it
started subjecting conservative groups allied with the Tea Party
movement to extra scrutiny.
The double-whammy of Republican outrage to which she is
likely to be subjected has raised concern among Democrats.
In the past, "Republicans have attacked Ms. Ingram unfairly
by claiming she was responsible for 'targeting' Tea Party
organizations seeking tax-exempt status, and they have called
for her suspension," said a Democratic staff memo to lawmakers.
According to the memo, distributed on Tuesday ahead of the
House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform
Committee hearing, Republican Jim Jordan once said, "I can't
wait until we get her in front of the committee."
Republican Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said in a letter
to Democrats on Tuesday that until now the IRS has "refused to
allow" Ingram to testify. "Ms. Ingram is uniquely positioned to
provide the committee with information" about implementing the
healthcare law, he said.
A Republican staffer said Republicans hope to uncover at the
hearing any problems that lie ahead for the IRS as it works to
implement the healthcare law. Republicans have demanded
defunding or delaying the law and last week shut down the
federal government over the issue.
Republican committee members will question Ingram about any
setbacks the Obama administration may be "hiding from the
public," a committee spokeswoman said.
IRS offices are largely closed due to the federal government
shutdown and attempts to reach Ingram were unsuccessful.
HEALTHCARE ROLLOUT AMID SHUTDOWN
The law - known formally as the Affordable Care Act and
informally as Obamacare - has continued taking effect despite
the government shutdown, now in its eighth day.
New state healthcare exchanges are drawing heavy interest
but have suffered from technical problems.
The Treasury Department and IRS are on schedule to implement
the Affordable Care Act during the government shutdown, a
Treasury spokeswoman said.
But the shutdown, which has led to the furlough of more than
90 percent of the IRS workforce, "will affect a variety of IRS
programs across the board," she said in a statement late on
Tuesday. "Despite these constraints, we will do all that we can
to continue implementation of the Affordable Care Act."
The law, among other provisions, requires most Americans to
have health insurance or pay a tax starting in 2014. The IRS
will have to collect that tax, just one of many jobs the agency
is taking on to make Obamacare happen.
The Obama administration has delayed until 2015 the law's
requirements for employers. Such setbacks underscore the need
for a delay of the law overall, Issa's spokeswoman said in a
The government shutdown was likely to aggravate the IRS's
problems in meeting its timetable, lawyers said.
With more than 90 percent of IRS staffers furloughed, little
work can get done on writing healthcare rules, which businesses
are keen to see, said Greta Cowart, a lawyer with Winstead PC.
For example, she said, the IRS has not clarified the
definition of a "seasonal employee" under the healthcare law.
"I want them back to work," Cowart said of the IRS staffers.
"We're trying to march forward without any marching orders."
(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh
and Bill Trott)