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Obstruction at the IRS

June 24, 2014

Beginning in March 2010, the IRS blatantly singled out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Such political discrimination of lawful organizations is the mark of oppressive dictatorships, not of the most successful democracy in world history.

The American people rightly demanded action. But Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Unit, refused to offer forthright testimony to congressional investigators on two separate occasions.

In response, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution in May with my support, holding Lerner in contempt of Congress for her failure to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is still not being upfront with congressional investigators. In fact, the Administration now insists that a sizeable portion of Lerner’s emails were permanently destroyed in a 2011 computer crash and cannot be produced for Congress.

That thousands of emails simply vanished into thin air at the exact time of a congressional inquiry is as believable as a unicorn sighting in Southeastern Wisconsin. It is ludicrous and, frankly, insulting to Congress and the American people.

The country is tired of this obstruction and will simply not accept that this likely incriminating evidence is unrecoverable. I hope that the President will work with Congress to uncover the truth about conduct at the IRS.

What began as an Obama 2008 campaign promise—to be the most transparent Administration in history—has turned into a somber punchline. From Benghazi and botched ATF operations to misleading and inadequate testimony from James Clapper, Lerner and others, this Administration has bucked responsibility and lost the trust of the American people.

I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pursue the transparency and accountability the American people demand.

Read more about the IRS targeting investigation, here.
The House of Representatives voted late last night to shut backdoors used to access Americans’ private electronic data by a vote of 293-123. The amendment to H.R. 4870, the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, prohibits the search of government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens without a warrant and excludes the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from requiring the placement of surveillance “backdoors” in products. It was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R- Wis.) Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
 
“Our amendment to H.R. 4870 further defends the constitutional rights we voted to protect when we passed the USA FREEDOM Act and reclaims an important provision stripped from the original bill,” said Sensenbrenner. “Both are positive, but not final, steps in our efforts to reform the administration’s surveillance authorities and protect Americans’ civil liberties. This amendment clearly states that the Fourth Amendment means what it says and there should be no shortcuts around it. I am pleased it passed the House with strong bipartisan support and I thank Representatives Lofgren and Massie for working with me on this important issue.”
 
“This was the first definitive vote Congress has held on the 4th amendment and the NSA, and last night the House stood up for the American people and the Constitution – that is something we can all celebrate,” said Lofgren. “This amendment is a worthwhile step forward and will make a meaningful difference, but our work is not done. I trust that our colleagues in the Senate will take note of this overwhelming support for the Constitution as they take the next step in this debate.”
 
"Americans are sick of being spied on,” said Massie. “The current state of American surveillance meets neither the expectations of our constituents nor the standards required by our Constitution. Our government searches vast amounts of data—including the content of emails and telephone calls—without individualized suspicion or probable cause. I am encouraged by this bipartisan effort to shut surveillance backdoors and ensure that Americans' privacy rights are protected."
 
The amendment was supported by a broad coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups as well as tech companies, including, among others, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Group, the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, Campaign for Liberty, the Liberty Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Demand Progress, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
 
Other cosponsors include: Conyers (D-Mich.), Poe (R-Texas), Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jordan (R-Ohio), O'Rourke (D-Texas), Amash (R-Mich.), Holt (D-N.J.), Nadler (D-N.Y.), Petri (R-Wis.), DelBene (D- Wash.), Farenthold (R-Texas), Butterfield (N. Car.) and Sanford (S. Car.).
 
The House of Representatives passed H.R. 4870, the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, today by a vote of 340-73.
A new bipartisan effort to close intelligence agency backdoors and curb government access to private electronic data gained momentum today as the House prepares to debate an amendment sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The amendment, offered to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 4870), would cut off funding to two government “backdoors” that currently allow intelligence agencies access to Americans’ private data and correspondence.

“There’s no question Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs used to store and search their private data,” said Sensenbrenner, Lofgren, and Massie. “By adopting this amendment, Congress can take a sure step toward shutting the back door on mass surveillance. This amendment will reinstate an important provision that was stripped from the original USA FREEDOM Act to further protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

One “backdoor” would be shut by prohibiting the search of government databases for information pertaining to US citizens without a warrant. A second would be shut to prohibit the NSA and CIA from requiring the placement of “backdoors” in products.

The amendment is supported by a broad coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups as well as tech companies, including, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Liberty Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Demand Progress, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

A full list of cosponsors of the amendment is as follows: Reps. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Lofgren (D-Calif.), Massie (R-Ky.), Conyers (D-Mich.), Poe (R-Texas), Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jordan (R-Ohio), O'Rourke (D-Texas), Amash (R-Mich.), Holt (D-N.J.), Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Petri (R-Wis.).
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell regarding how the administration plans to handle the surge of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who have illegally entered the United States and its cost to American taxpayers:

Dear Secretary Burwell:

Two years ago, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, halting deportation proceedings for certain young immigrants who illegally enter the country. As with grants of amnesty in the past, the President’s executive action produced a predictable surge in children risking their lives to cross the border. Just recently, the President stated that “our future rests” on the success of people brought to the United States illegally as children, who would qualify for citizenship if Congress passes the DREAM Act.

Your agency has documented the policy’s disastrous effects.  In its most recent budget proposal, HHS predicted that the U.S. would capture 60,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) illegally entering the United States in 2014. This is an 815 percent increase from the 6,560 illegal minors caught crossing the U.S. border in 2011. In 2015, the administration estimates that the number will increase to 145,000.  Recent reports indicate that 4,500 unaccompanied alien children arrived just in the month of April.  More recently, border patrol agents were overwhelmed by approximately 1,200 children crossing the border in a single night.
 
Under the Homeland Security Act, the federal government transfers custody of illegal immigrant children to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The office is charged with providing temporary housing, while ultimately trying to reunite the children with a family member or legal guardian already here in the U.S. (regardless of their legal status) while the child goes through removal proceedings.

HHS recently announced a $350 million grant opportunity to provide shelter for UACs, with funding to be directed to approximately 60 locations. According to press reports, as many as 500 UACs were to start arriving this week at St. Paul’s College, a recently-closed college in Lawrenceville, Virginia. However, HHS’ plans were stymied, at least temporarily, after town and county officials objected to the short notice and complete lack of community input.  I am deeply concerned with HHS’ lack of transparency and preparation and are requesting answers to the following questions:

•    Where is HHS currently housing UACs and for how long?
•    What other sites/locations are currently planned?  Have any leases been signed?
•    How many immigrants do you plan to accommodate?
•    What do you anticipate to be the final cost of housing UACs to taxpayers?
•    HHS is providing various ‘family planning’ services. What exactly are these services and what are the costs?
•    Is HHS prepared to house the influx of immigrants inspired by the President’s immigration policies?
•    What plans does HHS have to inform federal, state and local leaders of UAC housing locations?

This humanitarian crisis is deeply unsettling, and is likely to get worse unless federal agencies’ capabilities and resources are coordinated effectively to address this issue.  I look forward to your response to these questions and an explanation of how HHS is ensuring the well-being of these unaccompanied children.  Given the urgent nature of this matter, please respond no later than July 3, 2014.
On Tuesday, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste released the 2013 Congressional Rankings for the first session of the 113th Congress. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) responded to his “Taxpayer Hero” score of 96 percent, the fifth highest in the entire House of Representatives:

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “This ranking is a reflection of my tireless commitment to fiscal responsibility and responsible government. We can’t expect to grow our economy and create opportunity for future generations unless we address the out-of-control spending that ultimately drives our debt. I will continue to advance policy solutions that grow our economy and set our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule aiming to cut 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide by 2030, an Obama Administration order that skirts congressional authority and puts our economic growth in jeopardy. Of course, this most recent promulgation is part the President’s broader War on Coal, which adheres to a radical, dogmatic brand of environmentalism at the expense of American jobs.
 
Like most of my colleagues, I care deeply about the environment—Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful hills, lakes and farmland in the country. But I also believe we should be wary of environmental policies that have an adverse effect on economic growth. Under the proposed plan, electricity prices would skyrocket, the cost of doing business would increase and our international competitiveness would diminish.
 
It's troubling that the President uses the rhetoric of free enterprise and states’ rights to push a plan that is inherently anti-free market. States that don’t meet the Administration’s unrealistic benchmark would fall under a blanket federal plan that ignores the intricacies and nuances of state economies. Rather than relying on stale partisan talking points, which result in inflexible, overreaching policy prescriptions, the President should work with businesses and other affected stakeholders to craft workable solutions to climate change.
 
Now is not the time to impose schemes that hit consumers’ wallets, damage the economy and affect nearly every stage of production and consumption. Congress already voted down Cap-and-Tax when Democrats controlled the House and Senate—the American people and businesses staunchly opposed it. I will not accept this Administration’s unilateral attempt to enact economy-crushing regulations, and will work with my colleagues to craft policies that protect jobs and produce tangible improvements to the environment.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday approved an important bipartisan provision offered by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) for speedier public access to basic scientific research that would have had lengthy delays imposed under H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act.  In a mark-up vote by the committee, lawmakers chose to adopt the Sensenbrenner-Lofgren provision reducing the embargo period on accessing federally funded peer-reviewed research to twelve months, in line with the industry standard, instead of the FIRST Act’s proposed and arbitrary two-to-three year embargo period.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “This amendment is a strong compromise between competing interests. While not the wish list of either the publishers or the open access community, it meets the ultimate goal of providing taxpayer access to federally-funded research. It benefits all Americans when their tax dollars are used to craft life changing ideas rather than to fund articles with tax dollars only to have them sit behind pay walls. The American taxpayer has paid for this research and deserves access to its results.”  

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren: “While the FIRST Act still needs improvement, I am happy my colleagues agree on the principle that the public should have more open access to taxpayer-funded research. It’s not in the public’s interest to put up barriers to taxpayer-supported basic scientific research because it lays the groundwork for future discoveries.  Greater public access accelerates the kind of robust collaboration that can turn this research into the building blocks for breakthroughs that have immense benefits for the public and our economy.”

The Sensenbrenner-Lofgren amendment writes into law a process proposed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) after extensive input from stakeholders—including the publishing industry—for agencies engaged in scientific research like the National Science Foundation (NSF) to institute a twelve-month embargo on peer-reviewed research.  The amendment also offers flexibility by providing an additional six-month extension if stakeholders can demonstrate the public interest would be substantially or uniquely harmed by a one-year embargo.
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a vote of 303-121. It was the culmination of nearly a year of hard work to restore trust in our intelligence community and bring much-needed reform to our government’s surveillance authorities.

Senator Leahy and I wrote the USA FREEDOM Act because the government misapplied our nation’s existing surveillance laws, upsetting the delicate balance between privacy and security. Our bill ends bulk collection, increases transparency and restores accountability. In this age of rapidly developing technologies, these goals are constitutional and practical necessities.

Of course, there were setbacks, compromises and concessions made along the way in order to garner the required support. The Obama Administration insisted on broadening certain authorities and lessening certain restrictions to preserve core operations of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Some of these changes raise justifiable concerns and I share the disappointment many of you feel that this bill doesn’t do more.

But throughout my career, I have not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. With the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, we made a powerful statement: Congress does not support bulk collection. The days of the NSA indiscriminately vacuuming up innocent Americans’ communications are over. Most importantly, after this bill becomes law, we will have critical transparency provisions to ensure that if the government again violates our trust, Congress and the public will know about it.

Last week’s vote was a first step—not a final step—in our efforts to reform surveillance. It gives us the tools to ensure that Congress and the public can provide an adequate check on the government, while also protecting our national security. Chairman Leahy has indicated that the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the USA FREEDOM Act next month. Fortunately, the upper chamber will have the opportunity to strengthen this bill before the President signs it into law.