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Obamacare Enforcement Like Snow Removal, IRS Chief Says

U.S. Health-Care
Forms to register for insurance are displayed during a health-care enrollment fair at Ambrose Community Center in Bay Point, California, on March 28, 2014. Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Administering the 2010 health-care law is just like municipal snow shoveling -- a top priority that’s non-negotiable, John Koskinen, the commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, said today.

Koskinen, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, drew on his experience a decade ago as the deputy mayor of the city government in the nation’s capital. Even as the IRS faces budgetary pressures, he said, the health law will be a priority, just as snow removal is essential for a city.

Starting with the tax returns that will be filed in early 2015, the IRS will be responsible for enforcing the individual mandate to purchase health insurance and ensuring that people claim the correct amount of subsidies for insurance.

Koskinen, 74, became commissioner of the U.S. tax agency last year. He said the health-care law gives the IRS a chance to regain credibility, which suffered last year when the agency revealed that it had given small-government groups extra scrutiny because their names included the words Tea Party.

“If we can have a smooth filing season next year including the appropriate review of the returns of taxpayers” claiming tax credits for health insurance, he said, “the public and the Congress will have to say: That’s some organization with an amazing workforce.”

Funding Challenge

Any success the IRS has may help it overcome what Koskinen says is the agency’s biggest challenge: a lack of funding.

Koskinen reiterated prior statements that a rule to define political activity probably won’t be finished by the end of the year. Groups across the U.S. political spectrum have called the rule too restrictive for nonprofit groups that prepare voter guides and hold candidate forums.

He said the agency doesn’t consider taxpayers’ political leanings when deciding whether to audit them.

“The IRS is an agency of career civil servants who are dedicated to serving the American taxpayer in a fair and impartial manner,” he said. “That’s how it’s been and that’s how it will always stay on my watch.”

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