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December 01, 2011

Washington News Briefs

IRS FUNDING: The ABA expressed opposition last month to proposed fiscal year 2012 funding cuts for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The association, recognizing the challenges Congress faces in efforts to reduce federal spending to balance the budget, emphasized that the IRS relies on adequate government funding to perform its mission of administering and enforcing the tax laws, collecting the taxes due under those laws, and providing support to taxpayers who are attempting to meet their obligations. In a Nov. 9 letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government, ABA Section of Taxation Chair William M. Paul wrote that the proposed IRS reductions would exacerbate the budgetary challenges that Congress is facing and impair the ability of the IRS to achieve its mission. The proposed cuts contained in House and Senate appropriations bills of $650 million and $525 million, respectively, would result in a substantial decline in IRS examinations of individuals and business, including collection actions, according to IRS Commissioner Douglas L. Shulman. In his correspondence to the subcommittees in October, Shulman emphasized that the cuts would lead to a decrease of $4 billion in the annual revenue the IRS would normally collect and would eventually cause a direct increase in the nation’s deficit. Paul echoed Shulman’s concerns in the ABA’s Nov. 9 letter while also noting that members of the ABA Taxation Section already are observing adverse impacts on important programs as the IRS adjusts to expected future funding reductions. The impacts include restrictions on travel and training for IRS audits, appeals and litigation functions. The ABA also expects that additional reductions in program services will soon be felt by American taxpayers of all types if the proposed cuts are adopted, Paul added. The IRS funding is part of the financial services and general government appropriations bill, which is expected to be included in a fiscal year 2012 omnibus spending package or continuing resolution to be passed this month.

SYRINGE EXCHANGE PROGRAMS: The ABA is urging Congress to reject attempts to include provisions in FY 2012 appropriations legislation that would reverse current law by banning the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs. In an Oct. 19 letter to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote that the ABA has supported federal funding for needle exchange programs since 1997 as an effective public health strategy in reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS in the United States. P.L. 112-10, fiscal year 2011 appropriations legislation, allows state and local health departments to use federal funds to establish syringe exchange programs, and several states – including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico Oregon, Vermont and Washington – are directing a portion of their federal funds to such programs. Three fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills passed by the House, however, include language that would prohibit federal funds from being used to carry out any programs of distributing sterile needles or syringes for the hypodermic injection of any illegal drug. According to Susman, syringe exchange programs enjoy broad support from state and local health departments as well as the communities they serve. He added that voluminous research has established that the programs are cost-effective and vital to protecting public health, reducing HIV transmission, and addressing drug addiction by encouraging and assisting intravenous drug addicts to enroll in substance abuse treatment programs. “Make no mistake: this country is still in the grip of an HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Susman said, and it would be “counterproductive to public health efforts to enact funding restrictions that hamper or eliminated the opportunity for communities to use a tool that has proven effective in reducing HIV/AIDS transmissions.” Negotiations continue as the House and Senate attempt to craft final language for fiscal year 2012 appropriations legislation that will encompass the three bills that include the funding ban: Labor-HHS; Financial Services; and State/Foreign Operations.

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