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Republicans Use IRS Scandal To Undermine Obamacare

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In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) calls for freezing those dollars for now.

"I believe we need to address IRS funding in the health care law now, which may mean calling for a temporary suspension until it is clearer where this funding will go," Heller wrote. "I want you to know I intend to introduce legislation this week to suspend IRS funding for new agents enforcing the health care law until Congress sees an improvement. I am hoping this legislation is unnecessary and that we may work together to find a solution to this problem together."

The letter is a bit muddled. It alludes to President Obama's budget and the ACA itself, without drawing distinctions between the two. Obama's budget calls for higher IRS spending ahead of ACA implementation, but has no binding force.

It's also unclear whether Heller proposes to (perhaps temporarily) withhold money that's already been appropriated to the IRS, or to rescind its authority to spend current and future funds to implement and administer the law.

A Heller spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

At his weekly briefing with reporters Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) addressed the conflation directly. "I don't think that this [IRS controversy] is anything that is going to undermine the IRS's credibility vis-a-vis the implementation of the Affordable Care Act."

Perhaps. But it's already refueling the GOP's ongoing political drive to repeal the law in full or in part.

And it could draw more attention to brewing conservative efforts to rescind ACA insurance subsidies to beneficiaries in states that will have federally-run exchanges. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) tried on Tuesday to tie that more obscure issue to the unfolding non-profit scandal.

"The IRS has announced that it will violate the text of the law and issue health insurance subsidies through federal exchanges, something Congress did not authorize," Cornyn said remarks on the floor. "The law clearly states that these subsidies are not available to the federal exchange but only to the state-based-exchanges. It's the case that the President's health care law will dramatically expand the power of the Internal Revenue Service because the agency is responsible for implementing so much of Obamacare's most important provisions. Well, given what we've learned about IRS malfeasance, does that really sound like a good idea, to give them more responsibility, to hire more agents before we get to the bottom of the present scandal?"

You can read Heller's letter in full below.