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House passes $22B bill cutting IRS tax enforcement

WASHINGTON (AP) — The GOP-controlled House passed a $2 billion measure Wednesday that would slash budgets for enforcing tax laws and new financial regulations, and a healthy food initiative that’s a pet cause of first lady Michelle Obama.

The House passed the bill on a nearly party-line, 228-195, vote.

Companion legislation has yet to advance in the Senate and the White House has promised a veto of the House bill for numerous reasons, including a provision that would block the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing the mandate on individuals to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The Internal Revenue Service Building in Washington D.C.
The Internal Revenue Service Building in Washington D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The GOP-drafted measure denies the administration’s $35 million request to help community development banks finance projects aimed at making healthy foods more available in neighborhoods that lack grocery stores.

The measure is one of the more obscure of the 12 annual spending bills funding the Treasury Department, the IRS, White House staff and operations, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulation of the financial sector.

It contains a host of legislative riders that are catnip for conservatives. They include blocking new IRS regulations that could deny tea party groups and others tax-exempt status and block the government of the District of Columbia from financing Medicaid abortions or needle exchange programs.

On Wednesday, the House adopted an amendment by Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie that would limit the District of Columbia government from enforcing gun laws passed the wake of the 2008 Supreme Court decision that overturned the city’s handgun ban. The ordinances impose hurdles to gun ownership such as fees and fingerprinting. The city’s non-voting delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, warned that the amendment could have far more sweeping effects.

Also Wednesday, the House voted 236-186 to reject a move by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., to block the Treasury Department from implementing guidance to banks that would allow them to engage in transactions with marijuana-related businesses in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational uses.

The healthy foods financing program, funded at $22 million this year, is part of a multi-pronged initiative by Michelle Obama to bring healthy foods to “food deserts” like inner city areas served by corner stores instead of larger grocery stores that stock more fresh fruits and vegetables.

But Republicans say the initiative is unproven and that easier access to healthy food doesn’t necessarily lead to increased consumption.

The measure also would cut the IRS’ enforcement budget by $1.2 billion, or 25 percent in a move that Democrats warned could make it easier for tax cheats to get away with it. Republicans are furious at the agency over allegations it targeted tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status and has lost emails from the government account of former agency official Lois Lerner, who was formerly in charge of the IRS section responsible for scrutinizing such requests.

The measure also contains a little-noticed account that funds the pensions and office expenses of the four former presidents. The bill would slash the $3.3 million budget for the account in half.

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