G.O.P. Says Motive for Tax Clause in Budget Bill
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM
Published: November 22, 2004
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - Democratic leaders and senators from both parties
expressed outrage on Sunday about an obscure provision in the huge
end-of-session spending bill that would allow the chairmen of the
Appropriations Committees and their staff assistants to examine
Americans' income tax returns.
Republican leaders said that their motives had been misread and that
there was never any intention to invade the privacy of taxpayers. They
promised that the provision would be deleted from the bill in a special
session on Wednesday before the spending measure, which cleared Congress
on Saturday night, was sent to President Bush for his signature.
Representative Ernest Istook, Republican of Oklahoma, who was
responsible for the insertion of the tax provision in the 3,000-page,
$388 billion legislation that provides financing for most of the
government, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the language had
actually been drafted by the Internal Revenue Service and that "nobody's
privacy was ever jeopardized." Mr. Istook is chairman of the
Appropriations subcommittee that has authority over the I.R.S. budget.
John D. Scofield, the spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee,
said that the purpose of the provision was to allow investigators for
the top lawmakers responsible for financing the I.R.S. to have access to
that agency's offices around the country and tax records so they could
examine how the money was being spent. There was never any desire to
look at anyone's tax returns, he said.
Mr. Scofield said the only purpose of the provision was to allow
investigators to have access to revenue service offices. He said the
authority would be similar to that allowed senior members and staff
assistants of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance
Committee, the panels with primary jurisdiction over the activities of
the revenue service.
Disclosure of information from income tax returns is against the law and
subject to severe penalties.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said
Sunday that what she called "this taxpayer persecution provision"
amounted to an abuse of power by the Republican majority and "should be
of grave concern to all Americans that their privacy could be invaded."
Questioned about the tax provision on the CBS News program "Face the
Nation," Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, said,
"Nobody's going to defend this."
Other senators made similar statements on various television programs.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on the NBC program
"Meet the Press" that the insertion of the provision without senators'
fully understanding it showed how "the system is broken."
On "Late Edition" on CNN, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of
Texas, said: "Something happened clearly in the dark of night. The
Senate was totally amazed."
When senators discovered the language on Saturday, they unanimously
adopted a resolution saying the provision "shall have no effect."
Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, the chairman of the Senate
Appropriations Committee, said he had been unaware of the provision and
called it "a serious situation."
The speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert, promised that he would
convene a pro forma session of the House, with most of the members gone,
on Wednesday to adopt the Senate resolution negating the provision.
Mr. Scofield, the spokesman for the House committee, called the entire
matter "a tempest in a teapot" and said Mr. Istook and his colleagues
had no objection to the removal of the authority.
"We don't really care," Mr. Scofield said Sunday in an interview. "It
was an honest attempt to do oversight. If they want to take it out,
Mr. Scofield said he found it strange that senators felt they were taken
by surprise. He noted that the chairman of the House Appropriations
Committee, Representative Bill Young, Republican of Florida, had
discussed it briefly on the House floor, and that the language had been
available since Thursday for Senate staff members to read.