This Week in Congress: Reining in the IRS and, Maybe, the Surveillance State

The House comes into session on Monday this week.

Among the legislation considered is the Defense Department Appropriations bill. Representative Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren are once again proposing an amendment that would forbid the use of tax dollars for warrantless wiretapping. Because of Speaker Ryan's actions last week, the amendment first has to be approved by the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee meets today at 5, so if your representative is on the committee, please call them and tell them to vote to make the Massie-Lofgren amendment in order.

The House will also consider H.R. 5053, the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act. As the title suggests, this bill repeals the IRS regulation the IRS claims justifies their demands that requires groups like Campaign for Liberty to provide the agency with info on some of our donors. As you know, for the last three years Campaign for Liberty has been fighting IRS demands for our donors' personal information. Campaign for Liberty members should call their representative and ask they support H.R. 5053.

The House will also consider some bills under suspension of the rules, including S. 3367, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request Act. Campaign for Liberty is supporting this bill. For more information on this bill, see the letter that Campaign for Liberty is co-signing that will be sent to the Hill this morning:

June 13, 2016

Representative Paul Ryan Speaker of the House H-232 The Capitol Washington, DC 20515   Representative Nancy Pelosi Democratic Leader H-204 The Capitol Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker Ryan and Democratic Leader Pelosi: On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we are writing to express our support for S. 337, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Senators Grassley, Cornyn, and Leahy introduced this bill in the Senate, where it passed unanimously, to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to promote greater government transparency and accountability. Representatives Chaffetz and Cummings have led the efforts to strengthen FOIA in the House of Representatives, and support the passage of this bill. Congress meant for FOIA to be an effective and efficient tool for granting public access to government information; however, the experiences of FOIA requestors over the past few years makes clear the need for reforms that ensure the law is implemented as Congress intended. Specifically, the FOIA Improvement Act significantly improves requestors’ ability to obtain information about government actions and decision-making. Particular reforms included in S. 337 that we support include:

  1. Codifying the presumption of openness for future administrations, thereby requiring agencies to disclose information unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold the information.
  2. Ending secrecy for 25-year-old drafts and other internal deliberations not otherwise exempt from disclosure, thereby curbing the overuse of FOIA’s Exemption 5 to withhold historical records that will help the public better understand how a policy was developed.
  3. Codifying requirements to make more preemptive disclosures so fewer FOIA requests will be necessary to make records available to the public.

These reforms to FOIA have been hard-fought, and the President has pledged to sign this legislation if it reaches his desk. At a time when Congress is so divided, it is encouraging to see not only bipartisan cooperation, but also bicameral cooperation to move this legislation forward. There would be no more appropriate way for Congress to honor the upcoming 50th anniversary of FOIA on July 4, 2016, than to strengthen it by passing S. 337. We support the efforts of Representatives Chaffetz and Cummings to ensure the nation can celebrate FOIA’s 50th anniversary with a stronger and better statute, one that enhances the public’s capacity to hold its officials accountable, and to understand the workings of our government.

The House will also consider H.R. 4938, the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act. This act increased US involvement in the Caribbean by  "...directing the Department of State to submit to Congress a multi-year strategy for U.S. engagement with the Caribbean region" that:

  • Identifies State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) efforts to prioritize U.S. policy towards the Caribbean region;

  • Broadens State Department and USAID outreach to the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States to promote their involvement in Caribbean economic development and citizen security;

  • Outlines an approach to partner with Caribbean governments to improve citizen security, reduce illicit drug trafficking, strengthen the rule of law, and improve the effectiveness of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI);

  • Encourages efforts of the region to implement regional and national strategies that improve Caribbean energy security;

  • Improves diplomatic engagement with Caribbean governments; and

  • Assists Caribbean countries in diversifying their economies, reducing free trade and investment barriers, and supporting the training and employment of persons in marginalized communities.

The Senate will finish up the National Defense Authorization Act with final votes on Tuesday and also begin consideration of the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriation Act.

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