House Rejects Bill to Fire Postal, Federal Employees Who Owe Federal Taxes

April 19, 2013

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The House rejected a bill on April 15 that would have cost postal and federal employees their jobs if they fell behind in their taxes. Voting against the measure were 152 Democrats and 7 Republicans; 215 Republicans and 35 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

Although a majority of representatives voted for the bill, it failed because the bill was considered under a House procedure known as a “suspension of the rules,” which requires legislation to garner the support of two-thirds of those voting to pass. The procedure is typically used to quickly pass legislation that is considered non-controversial.

The bill (H.R. 249), introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), would make any person who has a seriously delinquent tax debt ineligible for federal or postal employment. The measure defines “seriously delinquent tax debt” as an outstanding tax debt for which a notice of lien has been filed in public records. It exempts a tax debt that is being paid in a timely manner, for which a collection due process hearing has been requested or is pending, for which a levy has been issued, or that is determined to be an economic hardship to the taxpayer.

Currently only IRS employees can be fired for failing to pay their taxes.

Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the bill, complaining the Chaffetz bill unfairly singles out federal employees. During opening statements on the bill during prior consideration in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Ranking Minority Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, “While I strongly agree that everyone, including federal employees, should pay their taxes, I have a number of concerns about this bill. First, the compliance rate for federal workers is much higher than that of the general public.”

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the overwhelming majority of federal workers — 97 percent — pay their taxes in a timely manner, compared to just 92 percent of the general public.

“Under current law and regulations, agencies can take disciplinary action against employees for failing to meet their tax obligations, ranging from counseling to outright removal,” Rep. Cummings said. “I don’t see how the exemplary compliance rate among federal employees justifies the adoption of a new law that would only apply to federal employees.”

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), a freshman member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “On close examination, it is obvious that this bill is deceptive, unnecessary, and even counterproductive. It’s a bill that puts additional requirements on federal workers that the rest of the public does not face: that of losing their job because of a tax lien. On top of this, common sense will tell you it’s a very difficult thing to collect taxes or any debt from somebody who doesn’t have a job."

“It’s a solution without a real problem and a solution that will only make it harder to collect taxes,” Rep. Cartwright said. “And I question whether this is a sincere effort to improve our nation or just another in a long series of unfair attacks on federal employees and the unions that represent them. “

The motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill in the House was offered by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

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