By Neil W. McCabe
The most aggressive conservative government watchdog in Washington released documents Monday that reveal a deliberate program by President Barack Obama’s administration to employ the IRS as a tool of coercion.
“So now we have more evidence of more Obama IRS abuses targeting innocent Americans – all in the name of Obamacare,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“No wonder it took a federal lawsuit and court order to get these documents—as they show the Obama White House and its agencies were happy to threaten and treat Americans like lab rats in order to bolster Obamacare,” he said.
Judicial Watch said in the latest batch, the IRS delivered two documents, one 77 pages and the other 108 pages, which detail how the Obama administration partnered the IRS with the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the White House Office of Behavior Sciences to create a team focused on forcing Americans to participate in the programs developed in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Obama established the White House Office of Behavioral Sciences in 2015 by an executive order, which directed federal agencies to research how Americans make policy decisions and to incorporate that research into their policy development.
The team was supported by a $5 million budget, JW said in its press release.
One example of how the program worked is this September 2016 correspondence from IRS Director of Individual Taxation Janet McCubbin to other members of the team:
Attached are drafts of the letters that IRS will send to selected taxpayers who paid a penalty for failure to have coverage or who claimed an exemption form the coverage requirement for tax year 2015 … As you know, we are planning to send several different versions of the letter to see which types of messages work best.
The letters were typical of the process the team developed. After a draft of the letters was produced by the White House Behavioral Sciences office, HHS and the IRS contributing throughout the drafting and approval process.
The documents released by Judicial Watch include letters targeting people who legally refused to sign up for Obamacare and elected to pay the penalty or individuals who claimed an exemption.
This is an excerpt from a letter written to people who claimed an exemption from the individual mandate:
Why am I getting this letter?
The law requires people to have a minimum level of health coverage, quality for an exemption, or pay a penalty when they file their taxes. Our records show you claimed an exemption from the health coverage requirement when you filed your 2015 taxes. If you or someone in your family doesn’t have health insurance or an exemption next year, you’ll likely owe a penalty for 2017. We are writing to make sure you know how you can avoid this penalty by signing up for health insurance or getting an exemption.
Another document, titled “a privacy/legal question” shows there was internal concern about using taxpayer data from the IRS, such as whether someone had declared themselves exempt from the individual mandate in the Obamacare law.
Federal law, 26 U.S. Code § 7431 and 26 U.S. Code § 6103, protects the confidentiality of tax returns.
Other letters developed by the team threatened Americans claiming an exemption from the individual mandate with penalties, which may also be against the law, according to the release.
Critical to the team’s effort were the inter-agency agreements between the IRS and the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to the release. These agreements circumvented legal prohibitions that might prohibit abuse of confidential taxpayer information collected by the IRS.
Fitton said the documents are part of five promised document productions from the IRS in this case.
The documents were delivered to Judicial Watch after the government received an order from the court hearing JW’s April lawsuit, Judicial Watch Inc. v. Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No. 1:17-cv-00615), which followed JW’s November 2016 Freedom of Information Act request documents that the IRS and HHS did not act upon.
According to Judicial Watch, its request was for:
All records concerning IRS efforts to reach out to individuals who either claimed an exemption or paid a penalty for failing to purchase mandatory health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Such records include, but are not limited to, communications, policies, and procedures pursuant to such efforts;
Samples of any letters, notices or other materials prepared and/or sent to taxpayers encouraging the purchase of mandatory health insurance; and
Any records regarding cooperation between IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services or any other government entity, whether state or federal, regarding efforts to reach out to individuals who have not purchased mandatory health insurance. Such records, include, but are not limited to, communications, agreements, memoranda of understanding, and any other inter-agency communications. Of special interest are any such records regarding the sharing of protected taxpayer information.
The tax agency told Judicial Watch it expects to complete production of the approximately 6,000 records by Jan. 24, he said. The IRS also expects an additional roughly 1,000 documents to be produced by early next summer.