Hill Cool to Clinton IRS Reform

Hill Cool to Clinton IRS Reform

President Clinton unveiled a plan to establish a citizens review board to oversee IRS reform efforts at a Rose Garden ceremony today. But even before he made his announcement, House Ways and Means Chairman Archer and Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, characterized it as "too little, too late."

This administration has been on the defensive on the IRS issue in recent weeks. As tales of abuse and mismanagement have been presented in dramatic fashion before committees on both sides of the Hill, the administration agreed to cautious steps on procedural reform.

Then, late last week, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin floated the idea of creating 33 regional citizen review boards, an idea once adamantly opposed by the administration, Portman noted. Portman, who authored a bill with Sen. Robert Kerrey, D-Neb., to implement the recommendations of a national commission on IRS performance, of which he and Kerrey were co-chairmen, acknowledged that the change could be an honest but belated recognition of the merits of the idea, but suggested it could also be the administration's response to public pressure for IRS reform.

After Clinton unveiled his plan, Rubin did not rule out greater private sector involvement in IRS operations, but said the White House is still opposed to allowing private citizens to control internal IRS operations.

"I think the private sector can contribute a great deal to the process of IRS reform," Rubin said. "I think the place where you run into a problem is when you cross the line between advice and review ... and actual governing decisions."

In the meantime, it appears more Hill Democrats are growing nervous about sticking with the administration. Rubin met with a group of Democratic members Thursday afternoon to shore up support for the administration's policy but there could be a number of defections if the administration appears to be behind the curve politically.

For his part, Portman said he had a "great" meeting with Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who Portman said understands the need to reform and restructure the IRS.

A leadership aide said Gephardt has been working with Rubin and members from both sides of the aisle to come up with an approach that all can accept.

However, Gephardt would part company with the administration if it refused to go along with a solid reform plan, according to the aide.

Portman, who talked with Rubin Thursday afternoon, observed, "The White House is trying to get it resolved in a way so that it does not go as far as our bill but provides them with the political cover they need."

The Ways and Means Committee is set to take up a bill based on the Portman-Kerrey legislation as soon as it returns from the week-long Columbus Day recess.

Archer brushed aside the idea of moving that markup back to work more with the administration.

In his view, it is unlikely the administration will move from its position on the composition of the board.

Archer also scoffed at the idea that the IRS could be reformed from within, saying, "If Treasury could have fixed it, they would have done it by now."

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