House passes Chaffetz bill targeting contractors who don’t pay taxes
Politics • Republican finds common ground with Obama.
Published: April 16, 2013 12:22PM
Updated: May 13, 2013 10:36AM

Washington • On the same day Americans had to file their taxes, the House once again passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz that cracks down on contractors who still owe Uncle Sam.

The legislation banning federal agencies from giving large contracts and grants to bidders who are delinquent on their taxes is similar to legislation President Barack Obama sponsored when he was a senator in 2007. The House passed a similar bill last year and did so unanimously again on Monday.

“As president, Mr. Obama has continued to fight for the contractors to be held accountable. I concur with the president on this issue,” said Chaffetz, who urged Senate action on the bipartisan bill.

The House passed the bill using fast-track procedures that require a two-thirds majority. Chaffetz could not clear that hurdle on a second bill he offered Monday, which would fire federal employees who are seriously delinquent on their taxes. That bill, which the House did pass in 2012, received a vote of 250 to 159. Utah’s other three House members supported it, but most Democrats did not.

Chaffetz said more than 96 percent of federal workers pay their taxes, but there are more than 107,000 who do not, and they owe the government more than $1 billion.

“Unfortunately there are a few bad apples out there,” he said. “There are a few people out there who, despite all the processes, all the appeals ... they still choose to thumb their nose at the rest of us.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the House delegate for Washington, D.C., argued the bill made it harder to collect overdue taxes, since the government can now garnish the wages of those who fall behind. And Democrats argued the bill was insensitive to federal workers who have gone through furloughs and pay freezes because of the bad economy.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) called the federal worker bill hypocritical, noting that members of Congress are exempt from the measure.

“It’s a double standard that Congress imposes furloughs and firings on the federal workforce yet exempts itself,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the NTEU.

Kelley added that the move was unnecessary, as there is already a system to catch those who fall behind on their taxes. According to data from the Internal Revenue Service, about 3.6 percent of civilian employees owe their employer a little more than $1 billion in uncollected taxes.

Chaffetz can bring his federal workers bill back to the floor under regular rules, which would require only a bare majority to pass.

eandrews@sltrib.com