BY PAUL BARTON
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The two-year legislative odyssey of Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, and Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service ended Wednesday as President Clinton signed major IRS reforms into law.
The president singled out Mr. Portman and Mr. Kerrey as he praised congressional efforts during a signing ceremony in the gold-draped East Room of the White House.
WHAT IT DOES
Highlights of the new IRS reform law include:
More taxpayer rights: Nearly 70 provisions address the issue, including relief for so-called "innocent spouses" and a shift in the burden of proof to the IRS in court cases.
Increased oversight: The law creates a new nine-member board, including six members from the private sector, to oversee the agency and approve strategic plans.
Holding IRS employees more accountable: The law calls for terminating IRS employees found to be abusing taxpayers, fellow employees or falsifying or destroying records to cover up mistakes, among other instances.
Mr. Portman peered over the president's left shoulder as he made the bill law.
Mr. Portman and Mr. Kerrey chaired the bipartisan National Commission on Restructuring the IRS, which started holding hearings in 1996.
"I never lost the faith," Mr. Portman said of the two-year ordeal as he stood on the platform where Mr. Clinton signed the bill. "It's a great relief to finally be here."
The commission issued a report in June 1997 that heavily influenced the scope and shape of the IRS reform bills that passed both chambers of Congress last month.
The reforms are designed to make the IRS easier to deal with and prevent the types of taxpayer abuses that have been highly publicized over the last year.
The president praised efforts that IRS officials have already undertaken to improve customer service.
"But clearly there is more to do to build an IRS for the 21st century," Mr. Clinton said.
"This bill takes us important steps in that direction."
Close to three dozen members of Congress attended the ceremony, including Rep. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee with Mr. Portman.
Also there was Sen. William V. Roth Jr., R-Del., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who put the spotlight on IRS abuse of taxpayers with a series of high-profile hearings last fall and spring.
Mr. Portman and Mr. Kerrey clashed with Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during parts of the reform battle, including a fight over the issue of an independent board to oversee the IRS.
The Clinton administration resisted the idea at first but gave in as IRS reform took off as a political issue.
Mr. Rubin alluded to those battles Wednesday when he thanked members of Congress for the "spirit of engagement" they displayed, especially over the past year.
It was the second time in two days that Mr. Portman had been to the White House. On Tuesday, the president signed a bill to establish a network of Underground Railroad sites, including the planned museum on Cincinnati's riverfront, legislation where Mr. Portman's efforts also played a leading role.
More coverage from Associated Press