Testifying in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller apologized for his agency Friday.
“I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service that we provided,” Miller said. “The affected organizations and the American public deserve better.”
Agents at the IRS decided to take a shortcut in 2010 that has created an uproar, “centralizing” a number of factors that could raise suspicions that these fledgling non-profits might not be focused primarily on ”social welfare.” One of those factors — and here’s where they made their biggest mistake — was focusing on groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Later they revised this policy to focus on “political action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the IRS Inspector General’s report.
The result? Some 300 groups were identified for extra scrutiny — among them, 70 were Tea Party groups. It’s not clear how many groups were turned down, yet it’s clear at least one Democratic group was.
Miller — who is stepping down from his position at the request of the administration — insisted that the actions were not intended to target conservatives.
“I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection,” he said. “The listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake, and not an act of partisanship.”
Under questioning by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Miller pointed out that though progressive groups were not identified by name, the IRS actually collected more information on left-leaning groups than Tea Party groups. The lifelong bureaucrat even rejected the notion that his agency was “targeting” anyone, insisting that was a pejorative term to describe the “listing” the agents were doing.
Republicans continually tied the scandal to attacks on the IRS in general, often citing audits by their supporters as proof of the agency’s overreach.
“The reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers,” said Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).
But Miller had another explanation for why his agents pursued such questionable practices — funding. The commissioner asked the committee to increase funding to his agency, citing budget constraints as a major reason why agents sought shortcuts to identify questionable applications.
“In the last 10 years, the budget of the IRS, adjusted for the size of the population and inflation, has come down 17 percent,” according to tax expert David Cay Johnston.
Committee members offered several examples of groups being denied 401(c)(4) status or delayed endlessly. However, there’s no evidence that suggests Republican spending was hindered by this IRS’s shortcut.
“Of the 21 organizations that received rulings from the IRS after January 1, 2010, and filed FEC reports in 2010 or 2012, 13 were conservative,” writes OpenSecretsblog‘ Robert Maguire. ”They outspent the liberal groups in that category by a factor of nearly 34-to-1, the Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows.”
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 17, 2013
Many on the political right simply can’t get this diversity thing right — and I deeply doubt that they want to. Theirs is a bone-deep contempt for otherness, a congenital belief in the superiority-inferiority binary, a circle-the-wagons, zero-sum view of progress, prosperity and power.
This became apparent yet again Wednesday when it was revealed that one of the co-authors of a much maligned Heritage Foundation “study” about “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Jason Richwine, had written a Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard in 2009 titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.”
Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post summarized Richwine’s dissertation thusly:
“Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races. While it’s clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics — ‘the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in I.Q.’ — he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group I.Q.s are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, ‘No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach I.Q. parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-I.Q. children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.’ ”
“He does caution against referring to it as I.Q.-based selection, saying that using the term ‘skill-based’ would ‘blunt the negative reaction.’ ”
Skill-based. Clever. Or Machiavellian.
In reality, it’s just another conservative euphemism meant to cast class aspersions and raise racial ire without ever forthrightly addressing the issues of class and race. This form of Roundabout Republicanism has entirely replaced honest conservative discussion, to the point that anyone who now raises class-based inequality is labeled divisive and anyone who raises race is labeled a racist.
It’s a way of wriggling out of unpleasant debates on which they have stopped trying to engage altogether. The new strategy is avoidance, obfuscation and boomerang blaming.
This “skill-based” phraseology is simply the latest in a long line of recent right-wing terms of art.
There was Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment about the people who would “vote for the president no matter what.” He continued: “there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
That was in line with the other-ing of President Obama, whether in the form of aspersions about his birth or his faith or his understanding of and commitment to the country he leads. Recall John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, saying that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions” and saying that he wished the president “would learn how to be an American.”
Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, blamed turnout in “urban areas” for their loss, rather than their ragtag campaign operation and a coreless nominee who was utterly inept when attempting to connect with average voters. Remember Romney liked grits, y’all.
The former House speaker and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — the one who said that poor children had no habit of working “unless it is illegal” — told Fox News last year that President Obama was “not a real president.” During that same television appearance, Gingrich said of the president: “I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while, um, watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythms are.”
Huh. Needs large amounts of rest and to go play basketball and watch television. Nothing subliminal there. Moving along.
This list could extend to more than one column — including terms like “job creators” and “we built this,” and the candidate Rick Santorum (who has three degrees) calling the president a snob for wanting “everybody in America to go to college ” (which is not at all what the president said).
And it could stretch back further to the patron saint of the right Ronald Reagan’s use of the welfare queen meme and George Bush’s and Lee Atwater’s invocation of Willie Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign.
But I think you get the picture.
The right is constantly invoking class and race as cudgels in our political discussions; they just hide the hand that swings the club.
The rebranding of the Republican Party is to a large degree the renaming of intolerance.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New Tork Times, May 8, 2013
“Extortion For The Sake Of Extortion: Republicans Taking The Politics Of Extortion Past The Breaking Point
With the House and Senate both having passed budget resolutions, the next step in the process should be a conference committee, which Republican leaders said they wanted. Recently, however, they changed their mind and now refuse to allow the process to proceed.
Why? I’ve worked under the assumption this is the result of GOP lawmakers feeling apprehension about their unpopular ideas and fearing a public backlash. But the Washington Post reports there may be a little more to it.
[The shrinking deficit] might seem like good news, but it is unraveling Republican plans to force a budget deal before Congress takes its August break. Instead, the fiscal fight appears certain to bleed into the fall, when policymakers will face another multi-pronged crisis that pairs the need for a higher debt limit and the fresh risk of default with the threat of a full-scale government shutdown, which is also looming Oct. 1.
In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal.
“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington.
I realize talking about budgets, conference committees, and debt ceilings is dry. This no doubt strikes some readers as inside baseball, of little interest to anyone other than political junkies and wonks.
But I hope folks will take a moment to consider what Ryan and his colleagues are saying here. They’re admitting, publicly and without shame, that they can’t engage in budget negotiations unless they can also threaten to deliberately crash the economy. GOP lawmakers want a “backstop” that will give them “leverage” in talks — whereas the conference committee is ostensibly about finding a bipartisan, bicameral compromise, Republicans need the possibility of a brutal self-inflicted crisis to hang over the process.
And if they can’t have it, they won’t engage in the budget process at all.
Wait, it gets worse.
Congressional Republicans made a series of assumptions, all of which have turned out to be wrong. They assumed Senate Democrats couldn’t pass a budget. They assumed Democrats wouldn’t want a budget process considered under regular order. And they assumed the budget talks, if they occurred, would happen around the same time as the need for a debt-ceiling increase.
GOP lawmakers were terribly disappointed, then, to see Senate Democrats do exactly what they were asked to do, and the economy improved quickly enough to push off the debt-limit deadline until fall.
But with their plans foiled, Republicans are stuck with no Plan B, no leverage, and no credible threat. Consider how remarkable this is:
[S]enior Senate Republicans, including several who recently dined with Obama and huddled with administration officials, conceded that it may be tough to bring their colleagues to the table too far ahead of the debt-ceiling deadline.
“I think there’s a better atmosphere for a solution than there’s been in the past, but I’m a little worried about people here in the Senate having fiscal fatigue. There isn’t any sense of urgency right now,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of three senators who joined Obama on Monday for a round of golf.
“We need to realize this debt ceiling is out there. It’s inevitable. It’s coming. And [the later deadline] should not relieve pressure,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. But “sometimes we don’t want to act until a gun is at our heads.”
Think about that for a second. The ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee is willing to admit — out loud and on the record — that there can’t be a budget process unless he and his Republican colleagues can threaten to trash the full faith and credit of the United States on purpose.
And here’s the kicker: Republicans aren’t even asking for anything specific yet. They know they want to hold the nation hostage, but they’re not sure why, and haven’t figured out what their demands are. Jonathan Bernstein argued persuasively yesterday that we’re looking at “extortion for the sake of extortion.”
The House crazy caucus is demanding not debt reduction, not spending cuts, not budget balancing, but blackmail itself. That’s really the demand: The speaker and House Republican leaders absolutely must use the debt limit as extortion. What should they use it to get? Apparently, that’s pretty much up for grabs, as long as it seems really, really, big — which probably comes down to meaning that the Democrats really, really don’t like it.
It’s the extortion that’s the point. Not the policy.
I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how crazy this is, but I’ll just conclude with this: those pundits who assume Republicans are a mainstream political party, and it’s a mystery as to why President Obama hasn’t had more success negotiating with these folks, just aren’t paying close enough attention.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2013
Republicans promised voters in 2012 that with public support, they would repeal the Affordable Care Act. Voters responded by electing Democrats, seemingly ending the debate.
Indeed, as recently as two months ago, there wasn’t much left to fight about. President Obama had won re-election; the health care law’s implementation would continue apace; many Republican governors started accepting the law’s provisions; House Speaker John Boehner called the Affordable Care Act “the law of the land”; and Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said, “The arc of partisan fever is beginning to recede, and pragmatism is beginning to come to the fore.”
That was late January. Now, congressional Republicans seem to vote uncontrollably on “Obamacare” repeal and National Journal reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a “secret Republican plan” to destroy the law.
By Election Day, Senate Republicans were ready to, as McConnell put it, “take this monstrosity down.”
“We were prepared to do that had we had the votes to do it after the election. Well, the election didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” McConnell told National Journal in an interview. “The monstrosity has … begun to be implemented and we’re not giving up the fight.”
Sure, those darned voters got in the way of McConnell’s dreams, but the Republican senator apparently only sees that as a minor inconvenience that simply delays his plans.
The “secret Republican plan” really isn’t much of a secret. Hell, it’s not really much of a plan, either. McConnell’s idea is apparently to have Republicans win a bunch of elections and then destroy the law through the reconciliation process so Democrats can’t filibuster the GOP’s anti-Obamacare crusade.
That’s roughly the same plan Republicans came up with last year, right before the electorate re-elected President Obama and expanded the Democratic majority in the Senate.
But as is the case with so many issues — taxes, deficit reduction, Planned Parenthood, Paul Ryan’s budget, etc. — GOP officials are determined to pretend 2012 didn’t happen and the will of the voters is irrelevant.
What’s less clear is whether McConnell has actually thought through the consequences, or whether he’s so deep into his post-policy vision that he simply no longer cares.
How will he pay for Obamacare repeal, which would cost over $100 billion in the coming decade? What will he do for the millions of Americans who would lose the ability to see a doctor if Obamacare were destroyed? How will he reconcile eliminating Obamacare and Republican plans to rely on Obamacare to balance the federal budget?
McConnell doesn’t seem to have answers for any of this. In fact, I’m not altogether sure why, exactly, McConnell hates the Affordable Care Act as much as he thinks he does, or whether this posturing is intended to placate the far-right wing of his party in advance of his 2014 campaign.
But the bottom line remains effectively the same: whereas Republicans were prepared two months ago to move on to other fights, GOP leaders are now back to their preoccupation with, in Paul Ryan’s words, “destroying the health care system for the American people.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2013