By Michael Patrick Leahy
The federal bureaucracy is comprised of about 2.6 million permanent employees protected by Civil Service and about 4,000 political appointees. Many of these bureaucrats are actively engaged in sabotaging President Trump’s agenda.
Political appointees can be fired by the president at will. Permanent Civil Services employees are more difficult to fire.
“Today, the Pendleton Act shields from dismissal, even on legitimate grounds, more than 90 percent of civil servants,” the Federalist reports. But even if they can’t be fired from Civil Service, they can be removed from their current positions.
Here is a list of the top ten holdover Obama loyalist bureaucrats President Trump can either fire immediately or remove from their current positions (civil service).
- John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service
- Richard Cordray, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director
- John Lansing, CEO of Broadcasting Board of Governors
- Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director
- Kenneth Tota, Acting Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services (civil service)
- Anastasia Brown, Acting Deputy Director for Refugee Programs, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services (civil service)
- Simon Henshaw, Acting Assistant Secretary, State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (civil service)
- Mark C. Storella, Deputy Assistant Secretary, State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (civil service)
- Lawrence Bartlett, career official, State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (civil service)
- Elaine Zimmerman, Regional Administrator for the Administration for Children and Families, Region 1, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont (civil service)
Cordray, Lansing, and Bennett could try to fight their terminations, but ultimately, if President Trump wants to get rid of them, they will be gone.
Here’s the case for firing or removing from their current positions these ten Obama administration holdovers:
1. John Koskinen, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner
Koskinen’s term is scheduled to end in November 2017, but President Trump has the authority to accelerate his departure.
“A faction of conservatives is circumventing leadership brass and calling directly on President Trump to tell IRS Chief John Koskinen, ‘You’re fired,’ ” the Washington Examiner reported last month:
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., will make the ask. The chairman of the Republican Study Committee has quietly but urgently been circulating a letter inside the GOP conference to build support. He’s now got 50 congressmen signed onto the letter.
While Trump has fleshed out his cabinet, so far, he’s stayed hush about the fate of the IRS chief. And conservatives really want Koskinen’s head. “You have the authority to remove Commissioner Koskinen,” Walker writes to Trump, adding that “we encourage you to dismiss him in the most expedient manner practicable.”
House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, first drew up impeachment articles against the taxman in October 2015. Since then, conservatives have accused Koskinen of interfering with a congressional investigation and abetting the of the continued targeting of conservative non-profits.
“Last year, irate Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully sought impeachment of Koskinen over the IRS’s alleged targeting of tea party groups and other conservative organizations,” NewsMax notes.
2. Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Cordray’s term is scheduled to end in 2018, but, as with Koskinen at the IRS, President Trump can move his departure date up.
“So long as President Donald Trump is in a firing mood, Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, must go,” Kelly Riddell wrote in a Washington Times Op-Ed on Friday:
One of the biggest swamp creatures, many thought Mr. Cordray wouldn’t survive 48 hours in the Trump administration, but alas, he has. He’s collected much power running his sprawling bureaucratic fiefdom, without any oversight from Congress, or even the president for that matter.
There’s the question whether Mr. Trump has the authority to even fire Mr. Cordray, a man who knows Republicans want him gone, but is refusing to leave.
Last year, the bureau’s single-director structure was declared unconstitutional in a court case, allowing Mr. Cordray to be fired at will, but the CFPB has appealed. So long as the case is pending, Mr. Cordray has grounds to stave off any dismal.
3. John Lansing, CEO of Broadcasting Board of Governors
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is one of those agencies most Americans have never heard of.
It “is the largest public diplomacy program by the U.S. government, reaching an audience of 278 million by broadcasting in 100 countries and 61 languages,” Politico reported.
It runs the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and several other broadcasting entities.
“Voice of America was created in 1942 during World War II to send pro-democracy news across Europe, as it aimed to counter Nazi and Japanese propaganda. The agency has since evolved into a more traditional news operation, while still pushing out the virtues of democracy worldwide,” Politico reported.
The problem in recent years is that Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the other broadcasting entities run by BBG have shifted from their traditional mission of promoting classic American values and interests to the rest of the world, and have become mirror images of mainstream media outlets like CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Current CEO John Lansing, a veteran cable industry executive, took over the reins in 2015 and has done nothing to stop that trend.
As Politico reported, a recent change in the law now provides President Trump with an opportunity to put his own person in charge over at the BBG:
Early last month, a provision buried into the National Defense Authorization Act called for disbanding the bipartisan board of the BBG, pleasing critics who said the part-time board was ineffective but alarming others who feared an accountability layer was being swept away.
“The status of the [BBG] board is in limbo, however, since Obama added a signing statement to the NDAA, saying it was unconstitutional to get rid of the board because it violates his constitutional right of appointment. Another uncertainty is that Lansing can be replaced at any time for a CEO appointed by the president,” Politico reported.
Even those on the left, however, acknowledge that President Trump has the authority to fire Lansing.
“But on page 1,404 of the defense bill that was passed by the Republican Congress right after the election, this far into the bill that high, they took the board of governors part out of the equation,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow says:
So that’s no longer who runs this $800 million broadcasting effort, Voice of America. Now instead of being run by a non-partisan sort of insulated board of governors it’s now run by a CEO who is appointed by the president and who serves at the pleasure of the president.
4. Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director
“Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett oversees BBG’s largest organization, providing content in more than 45 languages to 236.6 million people each week on radio, television, mobile and the Internet,” the VOA website reports.
Under Bennett’s leadership, VOA has become increasingly focused on covering domestic politics from a far left perspective, similar to that found at NPR.
Bennett is the classic elite mainstream media journalist:
Amanda Bennett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor. Through 2013, she was Executive Editor, Bloomberg News, where she created and ran a global team of investigative reporters and editors. She was also co-founder of Bloomberg News’ Women’s project. She was editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer from June, 2003, to November, 2006, and prior to that was editor of the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky. She also served for three years as managing editor/projects for The Oregonian in Portland. Bennett served as a Wall Street Journal reporter and editor for more than 20 years. A graduate of Harvard College, she held numerous posts at the Journal, including auto industry reporter in Detroit in the late 70s and early 80s, Pentagon and State Department reporter, Beijing correspondent, management editor/reporter, national economics correspondent and, finally, chief of the Atlanta bureau until 1998, when she moved to The Oregonian. Most recently, she has been a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
Bennett is married to Donald Graham, former owner of the Washington Post, and current owner of Graham Holdings, which owns, among other media outlets, the far left website Slate.
“Together with her husband, Donald Graham, she is a co-founder of TheDream.US, which provides college scholarships to the children of undocumented immigrants,” the Voice of America website notes.
5. Kenneth Tota, Acting Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (civil service)
As Breitbart News has reported previously, the two agencies responsible for the implementation of the federal refugee resettlement program–the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State—are populated by a revolving door of ideologically aligned bureaucrats from the Voluntary Agencies that are paid $1 billion annually by the federal government to resettle refugees.
Any bureaucrat who has served at either agency for any period of time has been utterly compromised by the refugee industry lobby and has to go in a Trump administration.
“Ken Tota is the Acting Director for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He has served as ORR Deputy Director since 2008, and also served as Acting ORR Director in 2006 and 2015,” according to the ORR website:
Prior to joining ORR, Ken served as Senior Program Specialist at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, where he provided oversight to the Unaccompanied Children’s Program and the program transfer from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Since coming to ORR, he has worked to significantly increase capacity and enhance care and services for unaccompanied children.
While at ORR, Ken has worked to enhance funding and services for refugees by focusing on the most vulnerable populations, technical assistance and expanding intensive case management. He has also been instrumental in the creation of an ORR division to focus on refugee health-related issues and developing partnerships in support of services for refugees.
Before entering civil service, Ken was the Cuban/Haitian Program Coordinator for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, D.C., and Miami, Fla.
In his resignation letter last month, ORR Director Bob Carey, an Obama appointee and former VOLAG executive, praised Tota.
“I am pleased to announce that, as I leave office today, Ken Tota will be assuming the position of Acting Director of ORR. Ken’s knowledge of the policies and issues which affect the populations we serve and his commitment to the work of the office is unmatched,” Carey wrote.
6. Anastasia Brown, Acting Deputy Director for Refugee Programs, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services (civil service)
Anastasia Brown worked for years in the “non-profit” refugee resettlement industry. Most recently, she held a senior position at the Refugee Council, USA, the lobbying arm for the 22 voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) who are paid more than $1 billion a year to resettle refugees in the United States.
Brown was recently planted at ORR by the Obama administration to ensure that the interests of the VOLAGs would be served in future administrations.
Outgoing ORR Director Carey also praised Brown in his resignation letter , saying she will bring “a wealth of experience” to her role, “which will be of great value going forward.”
7. Simon Henshaw, Acting Assistant Secretary, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
According to his State Department bio, Henshaw has been with PRM since 2013:
Mr. Henshaw is a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. His previous assignment was Director of Andean Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. From 2008 to 2011, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Mr. Henshaw joined the State Department in 1985.
8. Mark C. Storella, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
According to his State Department bio, Storella has been with PRM since 2016:
Ambassador Mark Storella, a member of the Senior Foreign Service, has a longstanding commitment to humanitarian affairs and human rights. He joined the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in June 2016 with responsibility for admission of refugees to the United States and refugee programming in the Near East and Asia regions.
9. Lawrence Bartlett, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
A long time official with PRM, Bartlett has been an active apologist for the refugee resettlement industry for many years.
“Communities certainly have a say in what happens [with regards to refugee resettlement locally],” Bartlett told an audience at a public forum in 2015, an assertion strongly disputed by opponents of the federal refugee resettlement program.
“We would not bring refugees to any city in the United States that wasn’t going to be safe for the refugees,” he added.
“I put a little twist on that on purpose,” Bartlett continued.
“I am certainly, as someone who is resettling a refugee, would not take them to a place where I felt the refugees themselves, was going to be unsafe. . . The point is, if this was not a welcoming community, refugees wouldn’t be coming here. ”
10. Elaine Zimmerman, Regional Administrator for the Administration for Children and Families, Region 1, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont (civil service)
There is nothing particularly distinctive about Ms. Zimmerman. She, in fact, is fairly representative of a number of high level federal bureaucrats protected by civil service.
Her world view, however, is unlikely to align with the policies of President Trump, like many of her colleagues.
“Ms. Zimmerman partners with state, local, community based organizations, and tribes within the Region to promote economic and social well-being of children, families, individuals and communities in the New England region,” according to her bio on the HHS website:
Ms. Zimmerman was formerly the Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children. She has devoted her career to developing and promoting model policy for children and families in health, safety and learning. Expert in trend analysis and public will, she knows how and when to move initiatives forward to maximize public interest and community partners for policy.
Ms. Zimmerman has been at the forefront of setting model policy in support of children. Her work with state leaders includes design of law in school readiness, early reading success, anti-bullying, children and disaster, children’s behavioral health, home visitation and anti-poverty law. She guided legislation to establish Connecticut’s Blueprint in Reading and Two-Generation initiatives. Ms. Zimmerman is recognized for one of the strongest parent leadership and family civics model in the states. For this work she was awarded the Good Housekeeping Award for Women. At the center of Ms. Zimmerman’s work is the critical role that community does and must play in preparing children for their future.
Her education background tells a lot about her world view: “Ms. Zimmerman has a B.A. with a dual major in Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She also has a Masters in Community Mental Health from the University of California, Berkeley,” according to her bio.
This list of ten bureaucrats who can be fired or removed from their current positions is a good starting point.
While he’s at it, President Trump can reverse 17 conversions at eight agencies from political appointees to career civil service in the federal bureaucracy that, according to a recent GAO report, were implemented “without receiving prior approval from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as required by OPM policy.”
The report did not identify the jobs by title, but it named the offending agencies or departments.
By Rick Wells
How absolutely absurd is it for Nancy Pelosi, who defended and supported the criminal Hillary Clinton at every turn, including her run for president, who set up a secret server in her house and then put our secrets on it, who admitted to destroying 33,000 mails and then more that later surfaced to say what she’s saying. It’s the same Nancy Pelosi who, along with Elijah Cummings, defended the destruction of records by the IRS pertaining to Lois Lerner’s criminal activities, just as a few examples. How off the charts can the San Francisco native’s testosterone levels be to allow her to come out and speak to their staff of mainstream media propagandists in such a manner?
Pelosi and company, representing the criminal, anti-American cabal disguised as a political party, the Democrats, is attacking the credibility of the innocent Trump White House, projecting, as Democrats frequently do, her own transgressions upon her political opponents.
In a mainstream propagandists briefing, Pelosi said, “Secrecy is a tool of an autheratorian government. She clearly meant authoritarian but why should we fix her mistakes and help her hide her mental issues? That’s how she said it, that’s how it should be written. To her point, the secrecy and destruction of documents of Clinton and Lerner referenced above were conducted by members of the authoritarian Obama regime. Once in a while she unintentionally stumbles into a truthful statement.
She tells the propagandists that their role “in all of this,” the smearing and effort to take down the Trump Presidency “is very important.” This woman who represents the party that is teaming up with Google and Facebook to censor and remove opposing views from the public sphere as she speaks, declares that pointing out the abuses of the non-press as an attack on “freedom of the press.” The media is completely owned by six CFR entities. There is no mainstream free press remaining to attack.
Prune-mouth Pelosi talks down to her little media minions like they were school kids with a mission to go home and convince their parents of something, saying, with a fake smile for good measure, “So I’m counting on all of you.” If they do a good job she might give them a sticker. She can’t badger and attempt to mislead the American people by herself, the propagandists have to declare to the stupid people that what she says is true.
Knowing what she and so many of her Democrat allies have done in the past she embarks on some fanciful fear-mongering, claiming she fears the Republicans will destroy documents that never existed. Does she then plan to accuse them of destroying what never existed when they can’t be found? Probably, if she thinks she can get away with it, that’s the consideration that drives every action they take.
The hypocritical hag then states the fact that she would even make such a statement is an indication that the level of trust has gone “so far low in all of this.” She adds, “That’s too bad.” She’s happy to the extent that she can degrade anything to do with the Republican Party, particularly trust. After all, a lack of trust for the criminal they ran for President cost her the election. She then references the importance of national security after she pretends to be disheartened over the tensions.
Pelosi raising the issues of trust and national security? She must have kept a copy on one of Donald Trump’s campaign speeches, for future reference and decided now was the time. Somehow, Nancy, those words and the movement of your mouth just aren’t compatible.
By the way, Madam House Hagfish, perhaps you could explain what non-existent document in particular are you concerned with possibly being destroyed? How many Podesta emails can there be? Is it something to do with Russians a Media Matters special pizza? Where is this document now and how did you find out about it? Did WikiLeaks tweet you to expect a document dump? Is it typical Democrat BS, completely fabricated for use in a smear campaign?
By Ben Kew
Some Democrats prepare to withhold paying federal taxes in potentially the biggest tax boycott since the Vietnam War, according to a report from The Guardian.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), which campaigns for federal tax boycotts, says there has “renewed interest in war tax resistance following Trump’s inauguration,” with the website’s traffic doubling in the past month.
“Something has clicked in the minds of thousands of people across the country… we don’t want to pay for Trump’s agenda! While many of the reasons people are fed up—extreme militarism, mass incarceration, police brutality, and mass deportations—are part of the foundation of our country, it is exciting to see many new people contacting NWTRCC and wanting to organize in their communities,” the website reads.
The boycott has also attracted the interest of celebrities, with Mia Farrow saying “I refuse to pay a penny of my taxes toward Trump’s insane, insulting wall.” Feminist activist Gloria Steinhem also pledges her support, telling The Guardian that she will deduct from her tax return money she believes should be going to Planned Parenthood.
In December, Time magazine published a column entitled “65 Million Americans Should Threaten to Not Pay Taxes,” urging the “approximately 65 million Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton [to] pledge that in the future if a Republican wins the presidency with fewer votes than a Democrat for the third time in our era, we won’t pay taxes to the federal government.”
California Democrats have already threatened to “cut off the feds” by withholding taxes, with former State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown claiming the state could become “an organized non-payer,” in a state of “non-compliance with the federal tax code.”
Before the election, dozens of celebrities promised to effectively boycott America by leaving the country should Donald Trump be elected. The list included singers Barbara Streisand and Miley Cyrus, the actor Bryan Cranston and the comedienne Amy Schumer. Since his election, none of their plans have materialized.
By Rick Wells
Congressman Elijah Cummings proves that some Maryland fecal matter is not only capable of speech, but it can lie and grandstand as it does so. He begins with some typical bad dramatics, asking everybody in the room if they hear that, the last blessed silence that will be available to them for the next six minutes plus.
He describes it as the sound of Republicans looking into non-existent wrong doings. Not those of the Congressman himself, who personally intervened on behalf of the corrupt IRS officials, Lois Lerner and others, against Catherine Engelbrecht and her True the Vote operation. That real abuse of power was ignored just was Lerner’s, Koskinen’s and Eric Holder’s.
He’s asking about the sound of them not investigating where no crime took place, in the case of General Michael Flynn and over President Trump. He takes shots at Chairman Chaffetz for not requesting any documents, possibly in preparation for the upcoming Clinton Foundation investigations, a time in which the corrupt Marxist Democrats will attempt to draw some sort of moral equivalence.
Let’s be clear, Rep Scummings, there was no violation of the law, the Logan Act has never been enforced and General Flynn was conducting the same type of transition activities as any other national security adviser might be expected to do. He also wasn’t lying about a video, and nobody was killed.
Scummings calls into question a trip that was common knowledge that General Flynn took to Russia in which he dined with President Putin in a celebration of their RT Network. Cummings read a description of RT purportedly from our intelligence officials, that RT is “the Kremlin’s principle propaganda outlet.” So it’s their version of CNN or MSNBC. The dishonest Congressman says, “Flynn now admits that he got paid for that trip,” which is another of the many tricks the talking fecal matter performs, the portrayal of what may have been a simple commemorative coffee mug as compensation.
He goes on to say that Flynn was “secretly communicating with Russian officials at the same time Russia was attacking our democracy.” This lame brain probably has heard the word “republic” before, but it’s likely a concept that is beyond his capability for understanding and using the word democracy reinforces the socialist underpinning of his Marxist Fascist Party. It’s okay for him to appear ignorant, his voters will never know the difference.
The whole Russia did it line of attack has been discredited as an Obama / Clinton ploy for excusing her sloppy and recklessness with secrets and records of every kind, particularly our most sensitive. It’s still just another Democrat lie.
E-LIE-Jeh Cummings impugns the integrity of General Flynn, saying, “we have no idea why he was trying desperately to help Russia.” For those listening and keeping score, the detestable Democrat has yet to use the word General in front of General Flynn’s name, giving him the respect he is due and has earned. BLM protesters are given respect by this piece of trash, a radical agitator Muslim from the DNC is given respect, even profiteering criminal spies who are former secretaries of state are called by their title. But not General Flynn, not on this day.
He goes into the Nixonian “what did the President know and when did he know it,” and promising to be a real pain in the neck of everybody as he and his anti-American comrades make the most of the opportunity they have engineered.
He’s calling for a public hearing to get to the bottom of this. Let’s do better than that. Let’s investigate the source of the leaks and the Obama loyalist who are committing treason in providing this corrupt subversive and their comrades with their ammunition. They are the traitors, not General Michael Flynn.
POS Cummings says the corrupt Marxists are in a fight for the soul of “our democracy,” and that the question is whether “we will clearly understand that this is our watch.” No you moron, it’s not your watch, your criminal candidate lost. If you were capable of clearly understanding anything, that might have already penetrated that thick, Cro-Magnon skull of yours.
This despicable individual is got good enough to empty General Flynn’s bedpan and were he not so insignificant and so clearly an enemy agent himself, he should be forced to apologize.
By Peter Suderman
How much difference does a single line on a tax form make? For Obamacare’s individual mandate, the answer might be quite a lot.
Following President Donald Trump‘s executive order instructing agencies to provide relief from the health law, the Internal Revenue Service appears to be taking a more lax approach to the coverage requirement.
The health law’s individual mandate requires everyone to either maintain qualifying health coverage or pay a tax penalty, known as a “shared responsibility payment.” The IRS was set to require filers to indicate whether they had maintained coverage in 2016 or paid the penalty by filling out line 61 on their form 1040s. Alternatively, they could claim exemption from the mandate by filing a form 8965.
For most filers, filling out line 61 would be mandatory. The IRS would not accept 1040s unless the coverage box was checked, or the shared responsibility payment noted, or the exemption form included. Otherwise they would be labeled “silent returns” and rejected.
Instead, however, filling out that line will be optional.
Earlier this month, the IRS quietly altered its rules to allow the submission of 1040s with nothing on line 61. The IRS says it still maintains the option to follow up with those who elect not to indicate their coverage status, although it’s not clear what circumstances might trigger a follow up.
But what would have been a mandatory disclosure will instead be voluntary. Silent returns will no longer be automatically rejected. The change is a direct result of the executive order President Donald Trump issued in January directing the government to provide relief from Obamacare to individuals and insurers, within the boundaries of the law.
“The recent executive order directed federal agencies to exercise authority and discretion available to them to reduce potential burden,” the IRS said in a statement to Reason. “Consistent with that, the IRS has decided to make changes that would continue to allow electronic and paper returns to be accepted for processing in instances where a taxpayer doesn’t indicate their coverage status.”
The tax agency says the change will reduce the health law’s strain on taxpayers. “Processing silent returns means that taxpayer returns are not systemically rejected, allowing them to be processed and minimizing burden on taxpayers, including those expecting a refund,” the IRS statement said.
The change may seem minor. But it makes it clear that following Trump’s executive order, the agency’s trajectory is towards a less strict enforcement process.
Although the new policy leaves Obamacare’s individual mandate on the books, it may make it easier for individuals to go without coverage while avoiding the penalty. Essentially, if not explicitly, it is a weakening of the mandate enforcement mechanism.
“It’s hard to enforce something without information,” says Ryan Ellis, a Senior Fellow at the Conservative Reform Network.
The move has already raised questions about its legality. Federal law gives the administration broad authority to provide exemptions from the mandate. But “it does not allow the administration not to enforce the mandate, which it appears they may be doing here,” says Michael Cannon, health policy director at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Unless the Trump administration maintains the mandate is unconstitutional, the Constitution requires them to enforce it.”
“The mandate can only be weakened by Congress,” says Ellis. “This is a change to how the IRS is choosing to enforce it. They will count on voluntary disclosure of non-coverage rather than asking themselves.”
The IRS notes that taxpayers are still required to pay the mandate penalty, if applicable. “Legislative provisions of the ACA law are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe,” the agency statement said.
Ellis says the new policy doesn’t fully rise to the level of declining to enforce the law. “If the IRS turns a blind eye to people’s status, that isn’t quite not enforcing it,” he says. “It’s more like the IRS wanting to maintain plausible deniability.”
Tax software companies are already making note of the change. Drake Software, which provides services to tax professionals, recently sent out a notice explaining the change in policy. As of February 3, the notice said, the IRS “will now accept an e-filed return that does not indicate either full-year coverage or an individual shared responsibility payment or does not include an exemption on Form 8965, as required by IRS instructions, Form 1040, line 61.”
The mandate is a key component of Obamacare’s coverage scheme, which is built on what experts sometimes describe as a “three-legged stool.” The law requires health insurers to sell to all comers regardless of health history, and offers subsidies to lower income individuals in order to offset the cost of coverage. In order to prevent people from signing up for coverage only after getting sick, it also requires most individuals to maintain qualifying coverage or face a tax penalty. While defending the health law in court, the Obama administration maintained that the mandate was essential to the structure of the law, designed to make sure that people did not take advantage of its protections.
In a 2012 case challenging the law’s insurance requirement, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional as a tax penalty. The IRS is in charge of collecting payments.
Some health policy experts have argued that the mandate was already too weak to be effective, as a result of the many exemptions that are included. A 2012 report by the consulting firm Milliman found that the mandate penalty offered only a modest financial incentives for families making 300-400 percent of the federal poverty line. More recently, health insurers have said that individuals signing up for coverage and then quickly dropping it after major health expenses is a key driver of losses, and rising health insurance premiums.
It’s too early to say whether the change will ultimately make any difference. But given the centrality of the mandate to the law’s coverage scheme and the unsteadiness of the law’s health insurance exchanges, with premiums rising and insurers scaling back participation, it is possible that even a marginal weakening of the mandate could cause further dysfunction. Health insurers have said the mandate is a priority, and asked for it to be strengthened. Weaker enforcement of the mandate could cause insurance carriers to further reduce participation in the exchanges. One major insurer, Humana, said today that it would completely exit Obamacare’s exchanges after this year.
It is also possible that congressional Republicans will make it moot by repealing much of the law, including its individual mandate, which, as a tax, can be taken down with just 51 Senate votes.
Regardless of its direct impact, however, the change may signal that the Trump administration intends to water down enforcement of the health law’s most controversial requirement, even if those steps are seemingly small. The Trump administration may not be tearing Obamacare down entirely, but it appears to be taking steps to weaken the law, however subtly, one line at a time.
Correction: The IRS did not reject silent returns last year, as this story originally indicated. The plan was to go into effect this year, for 2016 returns, but the IRS reversed course on February 3. Reason regrets the error.