House Probes Lavish IRS Spending

House Probes Lavish IRS Spending

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IRS official Faris Fink famously played “Spock” in a video parody of “Star Trek” that was used for training purposes at a lavish IRS conference held in Anaheim, Calif., back in 2010. The IRS spent $60,000 alone on the “Star Trek” video and another spoofing “Gilligan’s Island.”

There aren’t likely to be many laughs when Fink goes before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa this morning to respond to a Treasury Department audit of the California retreat that cost taxpayers more than $4 million. Fink serves as the commissioner of the small business and self-employed division (when he’s not exploring galaxies far, far away). He will be one of four witnesses to try to explain away the conference.  Others are acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, chief watchdog J. Russell George and Gregory Kutz, an assistant inspector general.               -  Here is the committee’s hearing advisory 

MORE IRS EMPLOYEES PUT ON LEAVE    Two more IRS employees were placed on administrative leave Wednesday for taking gifts at another of the many lavish costly conferences that the IRS has been hosting. That’s according to a scathing new report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration which found that the agency has spent $50 million on 220 conferences in the last few years. The two IRS workers placed on leave work on the agency's implementation of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. The announcement came just two weeks after Lois Lerner, who ran the division swept up in controversy over targeting conservative groups, was put on administrative leave.  All three will still be paid their regular salaries.  -   Read more at The Fiscal Times

SENATE’S STUDENT LOAN SHOWDOWN  The Senate is scheduled to vote today on two separate measures that would prevent interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans from automatically doubling on July 1. One measure would extend the current relatively low interest rate of 3.4 percent, while the other – a Republican House-passed bill -- would tie rates to 10-year Treasury notes, with an additional 2.5 percentage points. Neither measure appears to have sufficient support to pass, setting up a showdown between Democratic and Republican forces. -   Read more at Politico  

HOLDER RETURNS TO THE HILL    Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee today on the Justice Department’s FY 2014 budget request. But with so many controversies swirling around him and his department, many of the lawmakers’ questions will likely have little to do with the department’s funding levels for the coming year. -   Read more at Buzzfeed

JOBLESS CLAIMS FELL BY 11K    Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, according to new data from the Labor Department.
Jobless claims decreased by 11,000 to 346,000 in the week that ended June 1 from a revised 357,000.          -   Read more at Bloomberg

OBAMACARE  HURTS THE VERY POOR    The Fiscal Times’ Eric Pianin writes, “Nearly a year after the Supreme Court limited the expansion of Medicaid under President Obama’s health care reform law, the federal-state health program  for the poor and disabled is evolving into a disturbingly stark dual system in which the  availability of health care is being determined largely by the same political divide that settled the 2012 presidential election.”  So far, 20 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to opt into the Medicaid expansion, while 14 states rejected the offer. There are about a dozen more states leaning against it.

“That means that tens of millions of poor or disabled people currently living on the Eastern Seaboard or in parts of the Midwest or along the Pacific Coast will be in line to obtain Medicaid health care coverage for the first time next year. Yet millions more – living primarily in the South and Southwest and portions of the Midwest – will be denied coverage.”    Read more at The Fiscal Times

WHITE HOUSE RESPONDS TO NSA PHONE SURVEILLANCE The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting phone records of millions of Americans under a controversial section of the Patriot Act, the Guardian newspaper first reported. A White House official told Politico, “On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls.” The official added, “The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.” -  Read more at Politico

Brianna Ehley is the former Washington Correspondent for The Fiscal Times. She is currently a reporter on Politico's health care team in Washington, D.C.