U.S. Senate committee approves Biden nominee to head IRS

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By Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate committee on Thursday approved President Joe Biden's nominee to head up the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-9 to approve Daniel Werfel, a longtime federal budget official and former acting commissioner of the IRS, to lead the tax-collection agency as its commissioner.

If approved, he will be in charge of allocating $80 billion in new funding for the agency, part of Biden's major tax and climate bill passed by Congress in August.

That has made Werfel's nomination contentious. No date has been set for a full Senate vote.

Republicans have claimed that money will fund an army of 87,000 new agents to harass Americans on their taxes, though the IRS says it will focus enforcement on corporations and wealthy filers.

The funding will also be used to replace retiring employees, answer taxpayer questions and upgrade obsolete computer systems, according to U.S. Treasury officials and tax experts.

Democrats say the increase in funding is desperately needed to step up enforcement and catch fraud.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said Werfel "understands the importance of rebalancing the tax code to make it more fair, to go after the tax cheating by too many wealthy and big corporations."

Republican Senator John Cornyn, who opposed Werfel's nomination, said the IRS has botched tech upgrades and struggled to answer taxpayers' questions.

"As a reward, the administration pushed through an $80 billion blank check without producing a single spending plan," he said at a committee meeting before the vote.

If confirmed by the Senate, Werfel would take over from former Commissioner Charles Rettig, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, whose term expired in November.

Werfel will need a simple majority in the 100-seat Senate to be approved.

(This story has been corrected to fix the name of the Republican senator to John Cornyn from Mike Crapo in paragraph 9)

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington; editing by Andy Sullivan and Cynthia Osterman)