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“Conservative Victimhood”: Why The IRS Non-Scandal Perfectly Represents Today’s GOP

When John Boehner appointed South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy to chair a select committee on Benghazi, it was like a manager taking the ball from a struggling starting pitcher and calling in a reliever to see if he might be able to carry the team to victory. Except in this case, the starter being pummelled—Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee—was still pitching in another couple of games, with no improvement in results. Listening to this NPR story yesterday about Issa’s continued inability to get where Republicans want to go with the IRS scandalette, it occurred to me that it really is an almost perfect expression of contemporary congressional Republicanism.

There’s the obsession with conservative victimhood, (For the record, not one of the nonprofit groups scrutinized by the IRS for possible political activity was constrained from doing anything by having its 501(c)(4) application delayed; a group whose application is pending can operate as freely one whose nonprofit status is already approved.) There’s the utter disinterest in governing or the actual operation of government, in favor of a fruitless quest for partisan advantage. There’s the obliviousness to facts. There’s the fervent belief that even if they can’t find any malfeasance it must surely be there somewhere waiting to be uncovered, because it’s Barack Obama we’re talking about here, and we just know in our guts that he must have done something horrible. Consider these recent remarks from Issa:

An interesting question that gets asked is, “Are we close to the bottom?” The bottom turns out to be here in Washington, Lois Lerner and people directly related to her clearly have been shown to abuse conservatives for their views. Now the question is can we get to the top. So far, Lois Lerner is as high as we’ve been able to substantiate, but we do certainly understand that the IRS commissioners knew or should have known about her activities and made trips to the White House. That’s a big part of where—we may never get those answers, but it certainly looks like Lois Lerner didn’t act alone.

I’m not sure exactly what he means “we’ve been able to substantiate” about Lois Lerner, but he’s sure that the conspiracy goes higher, even up to the top. The IRS commissioner “made trips to the White House,” for pete’s sake! But the fact that in 2014 Issa is still talking about this particular component of the story after it was thoroughly debunked—in actuality, the commissioner made a small number of trips to the White House to attend meetings about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which involves the IRS verifying income data—demonstrates just how far Issa is from ever getting the goods on the Obama administration. “Lois Lerner didn’t act alone,” he says, not because he actually has any evidence of a conspiracy, but because, well, c’mon!

Which brings us to the final way in which the IRS scandal is a microcosm of this entire era of Republican buffoonery: the hapless bumbling, culminating in humiliating failure. They really thought this scandal had potential. After all, it involved the most hated agency in Washington, and it seemed like they were sure to find the smoking gun. But then they didn’t, and the scandal goes on only in the fevered imaginations that flourish within the conservative bubble. They’ll still be talking about it years from now.

Having failed to catch the Obama administration in an impeachable act, Republicans could at least have used the story to put forward some reforms that could make the IRS work better. They could have proposed clarifying the law on charitable groups, or providing extra training for IRS workers (who plainly found current law vague and confusing to implement, because it is), or any of a number of reforms to make sure nothing even remotely like this happens again. But they didn’t propose those things. What are they advocating instead? Cutting the IRS’ enforcement budget, so it’s easier for people (especially rich people who can employ tax avoidance schemes) to get away with not paying their taxes.

When the scandal didn’t turn out to be what they thought it was, they could have turned it into something productive for the country, and with relatively little effort. (Democrats would surely have gone along with any productive reforms.) But they didn’t bother. And there you have it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 16, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Darrell Issa, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Chases Fake IRS Scandal, But Makes The Real One Worse”: Republicans Need Look No Further Than Their Own Budget Proposals

With the exception of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, no Obama-era controversy has animated Republican imaginations quite like the one surrounding the Internal Revenue Service.

Congressional Republicans’ version of the scandal originally went like this: President Obama ordered the IRS to target right-wing organizations applying for tax-exempt status as non-political “social welfare” groups, leading the agency to harass those on the president’s Nixonian enemies list.

It turns out that none of that ever happened; the IRS targeted liberal groups as well as conservative ones, not a single Tea Party group was denied tax-exempt status (despite overwhelming evidence that many of them were engaged in political activity), and no evidence ever emerged that the White House was involved in any of it. Still, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from escalating the “scandal” in increasingly ridiculous ways.

The current outrage centers around the IRS’ claim that thousands of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails were lost when her computer crashed in 2011. Although evidence and logic suggest that this was not part of a massive cover-up, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is threatening to impeach Attorney General Eric Holder unless he appoints a special prosecutor to investigate it, and Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Bill Flores (R-TX) have introduced a bill promising a $1 million bounty to anyone who can restore the lost emails, while threatening to cut the salaries of IRS employees by 20 percent unless the emails are recovered.

As it happens, Republicans have already hammered IRS employees with cuts since they took control of the House of Representatives in 2011 — and they didn’t even need a “Nixonian” “scandal” to do so.

In a report released Wednesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates just how badly Congress has constrained the IRS’ ability to do its job. Due to a combination of discretionary budget cuts and sequestration, the IRS has been left with an $11.3 billion budget for 2014. That’s $840 million lower than it was in 2010, amounting to a 14 percent cut when accounting for inflation.

CBPP Chart 1

As a result of the cuts, the IRS has been forced to reduce its workforce by 11 percent since 2010, even as the agency’s workload has substantially increased (for example, in addition to the IRS’ new campaign finance responsibilities, CBPP notes that the number of individual tax returns has grown by 1.5 million annually over the past decade).

CBPP Chart 2

Furthermore, even as the IRS’ remaining workers have been forced to take on more responsibility, the agency’s training budget has been slashed by an astonishing 87 percent between 2010 and 2013, the most recent year with available data. If Congress wants to know why the IRS struggled so badly at sorting out the glut of groups that applied for tax exemption, there is your answer.

President Obama’s 2015 budget would reverse the rapid slide in the IRS’ funding; it would increase the agency’s budget by $1.2 billion from this year’s level, returning it to roughly its 2010 level (before adjusting for inflation).

The House appropriations subcommittee wants to go further in the other direction, however; it has proposed cutting IRS funding by yet another $340 billion. This is especially illogical considering the GOP majority’s supposed desire to limit the budget deficit. According to the Treasury Department, each $1 spent on the IRS budget yields $4 of revenue.

“Policymakers should give the IRS sufficient resources to carry out its mission,” the CBPP paper concludes. “In particular, policymakers who profess to be concerned or even alarmed about the nation’s current or future fiscal course should provide the IRS with the funding it needs to administer the nation’s tax laws and collect taxes due under the laws of the land.”

CBPP is not the first to sound the alarm over the IRS’ lack of funding; The National Memo’s David Cay Johnston made a similar argument in 2013, at the height of the “targeting” controversy.

Republicans are clearly desperate to uncover a real scandal at the IRS. But if they really want to improve things at the much-maligned agency, they need look no further than their own budget proposals.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National memo, June 27, 2014

June 29, 2014 Posted by | Federal Budget, Internal Revenue Service, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“She Can See Things 16 Days Before They Happen”: The Woman At The Center Of The IRS ‘Scandal’ Must Be Clairvoyant

If I were the Republican Party, rather than attacking Lois Lerner as a modern-day E. Howard Hunt, I’d hire her as an election consultant. Why? Because the former commissioner at the center of the “newly re-burgeoning” IRS “scandal” is clearly a clairvoyant. I should think she’d be pretty handy for Reince Priebus to have around this October. You see, she can see things 16 days before they happen.

How do I know this? Consider the timeline of events. Lerner, who worked in the service’s Washington office, was first alerted that employees in the Cincinnati branch were using “inappropriate criteria” (key words like “tea party”) to process the applications of nonprofit groups on June 29, 2011. This comes from the very Treasury Department IG report that first made this whole business public. See the timeline here.

OK, so that’s that. Now, you’ve been hearing all this stuff lately about her lost emails, right? Her emails from between January 2009 and April 2011 disappeared. Went poof. It was in early 2010 that the IRS began using the inappropriate criteria. Looks awfully suspicious, doesn’t it? She lost all her emails pertaining to the period under examination and then some. Stinks to high heaven. Some have compared the missing two-plus years to the famous 18 1/2-minute gap in the Watergate tapes.

One problem. Her computer crashed on June 13, 2011. It was the following day that she wrote to other IRS personnel to tell them: “My computer crashed yesterday.” This date was noted last week by Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

That was when all those emails disappeared on her. It happened 16 days before she even knew about the problem in the Cincinnati office. So how likely is it that she deleted those emails in order to prevent House investigators from being able to learn anything about the “scandal”? Considering that she didn’t know about the problem yet, I’d say bloody unlikely.

In other words, this is just another ridiculous allegation in a parade of them. Admittedly, all of these revelations have looked dubious at first glance. But all of them have fizzled upon serious examination. It wasn’t just groups on the right that were targeted. The IRS head who visited the White House 155 times or whatever it was turns out to have gone to the Old Executive Office Building, not the White House, most of those times, and largely to talk about the IRS’ role in crafting and implementing Obamacare. And so on.

On top of that, the idea that Obama himself had some hand in this stuff, which was of course the original suspicion and orgasmatronic dream in Wingnuttia, is and always has been utterly crazy. I wouldn’t have put much past George W. Bush, but I would never have believed that even he would have orchestrated a scandal with such little upside (keeping some groups from getting 501c3 status) and such massive downside (possible Nixonian illegality). Dick Cheney, maybe, but not Bush.

And on top of that, the extremely unsurprising fact is that federal government computers crash all the time. These agencies’ internal operations are all underfunded, and bureaucrats all over the country are using primitive computers that groan under the weight of today’s demands. Plus, requirements for data preservation are fairly lax—and even if they weren’t, problems happen in this realm frequently.

Remember the Bush-era U.S. attorney firings? The Bush White House announced that it had lost 5 million emails during that probe. Not all emails relating to the Valerie Plame investigation were properly preserved. And finally, a Justice Department report found that many emails written by and to two Bush administration officials who’d been involved in crafting the “torture is legal” argument had suddenly gone missing. I’m sure the people today saying that the IRS scandal is bigger than Watergate were making excuses then.

In this case, no excuses need to be made. Unless Lois Lerner is a clairvoyant, the idea that she deleted emails on June 13 to cover up behavior she didn’t even learn about until June 29 is simply preposterous to any rational person with even a passing respect for facts and evidence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe Darrell Issa, who is holding another hearing Monday night (yes, night!), casting his fishing line out into the sea one more time. His colleague Trey Gowdy is going to be getting all the Benghazi headlines once that committee is up and running, so Issa has to find something to do, I suppose.

What’s amusing to me here is this: Conservatives are the people who think government can’t do anything right. That is exactly the situation we have here. IRS employees in Cincinnati really screwed up the processing of applications. The people in the charge of them in Washington were to some degree asleep. Computers crashed and emails were lost. As far as conservatives are concerned, that’s what government does all the time.

To conservatives, that usually explains a lot. But here of course they thought they had a chance to advance the more delectably sinister theory that Obama is out to destroy his political enemies. But sorry. Obama’s no Nixon, and Lois Lerner is no Rose Mary Woods.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“IRS Hearings Are Another Republican Circus”: A Folly Wrapped In A Charade And Shrouded By Farce

Dave Camp had a secret.

The House Ways and Means Committee chairman was ready to send the panel’s files on former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for a possible prosecution — a handover that could have been accomplished with a simple phone call to the attorney general. Instead, Camp put on a show.

The Michigan Republican invited the press and the public to the committee’s storied hearing room Wednesday, only to call an immediate vote to kick them out. This way, the panel could meet in a closed session to debate Lerner’s fate — a dramatic but meaningless gesture because the sole purpose of the secret meeting was to authorize releasing the committee’s files on Lerner to the public.

Republicans said the closed session was required to make the information public, but the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sandy Levin (Mich.), said the debate should be held in the open.

“Mr. Chairman?” he inquired after the plan to go into secret session was announced.

Camp ignored Levin. “The clerk will call the roll,” he said.

“Mr. Chairman?”

“The clerk will call the roll.”

“Mr. Chairman?”

“The clerk will call the roll.”

Levin pressed on, patiently raising a point of order.

“Just chill out,” the 60-year-old Camp finally snapped at his 82-year-old colleague.

“I’m very chilled out,” Levin replied.

This was true. Levin hadn’t raised his voice at all. Camp, on the other hand, was agitated — for good reason.

The lawmaker, who is retiring at the end of this term, has built a solid reputation over the years, and he recently won plaudits for releasing a thoughtful proposal to overhaul the tax code. Camp was on course to retire with dignity — at least until he allowed his committee room to be turned into a circus tent Wednesday. It was a folly wrapped in a charade and shrouded by farce.

Folly: There was no need to have a formal hearing to convey the information to the Justice Department, which is already investigating the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.

Charade: The committee made a big show of having its secret hearing, even though it was a foregone conclusion that the members would vote along party lines to release its “secret” information — including the transcript of the secret hearing — to the public.

Farce: Camp said Lerner could be prosecuted for releasing private taxpayer information. Yet in making public its Lerner files, the committee used its authority to do legally the same thing it accused her of doing illegally: releasing confidential taxpayer information. That hadn’t been done in at least 40 years.

Of course, the taxpayers whose information was released — mostly related to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group — may not mind, because they have an interest in seeing somebody pay for the IRS’s targeting of a disproportionate number of tea party groups for extra scrutiny.

The IRS scandal didn’t come close to the “culture of corruption” Camp promised or the “targeting of the president’s political enemies” and coverup alleged by Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose committee is holding the contempt vote. Instead, the investigations didn’t go beyond Lerner, a civil servant who led the agency’s tax-exempt division. “This was a career employee in the IRS potentially who did all these things,” Camp said after Wednesday’s secret session. “So we have to make sure that the signal goes out that this doesn’t happen again.”

That’s a reasonable sentiment, and one shared by Levin, who on Wednesday said Lerner had been guilty of “clear mismanagement.” Democrats objected not to Camp turning over the committee’s information on Lerner, but to the cloak-and-dagger hearing followed by the wholesale release of tax records.

The AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher asked Camp why he didn’t just “pick up the phone” rather than make private taxpayer files public.

Camp agreed that such a release was unprecedented but said, “This is so important that I think the public has a right to know.” He repeatedly called the matter “important” and “a very serious thing.”

But the chairman’s claims of importance were undermined by his committee’s antics, including its showy secrecy. Reporters, waiting out the two-hour closed session in the hallway, were treated to Krispy Kreme doughnuts by the committee’s staff. But inside the room, other staffers were unplugging the journalists’ cables, just to be sure nobody pierced the veil.

When Camp reconvened the hearing after the secret session, cameramen called out for him to wait as they reassembled their equipment. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) complained. “Are you guys ready?” he moaned.

But Camp waited, which was wise. What good is a farce if it isn’t on film?

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 9, 2014

April 11, 2014 Posted by | IRS, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican’s ‘Un-American’ Activities”: Darrell Issa Tries McCarthyite Move To Revive Flailing IRS Probe

GOP congressman and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrell Issa’s quest to uncover the smoking gun of the IRS scandal story — the missing Gotcha! moment that will cause the Obama administration to crumble under the weight of its own corruption — has run aground lately, primarily due to the people in Issa’s cross hairs pleading the Fifth Amendment. But that doesn’t mean Issa is quite yet ready to give up.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, Issa and his allies are considering making a rare argument and a procedural move in order to force former IRS official Loris Lerner to testify. Lerner used to be the head of the IRS department tasked with figuring out whether to grant tax-exempt status to groups claiming to be apolitical in nature and focused primarily on “social welfare.” Republicans have charged that the IRS disproportionately targeted right-wing organizations for review. Lerner resigned and has spoken to Issa’s committee, but has also refused to answer some questions by pleading the Fifth.

In response to Lerner’s invocation of this constitutional right, Issa is now arguing that because the former government official did speak with the committee before pleading the Fifth, she waived her right to do so and is thus eligible to be held in contempt of Congress and even possibly face criminal charges. A report by the Congressional Research Services that is pushing Issa’s argument calls Lerner “critical to the Committee’s investigation[.]” Further, the report states that “Without [Lerner’s] testimony, the full extent of the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party applications cannot be known, and the Committee will be unable to fully complete its work.”

One potential problem with Issa’s latest move, however, is the fact that no American has ever been successfully prosecuted for pleading the Fifth before Congress. Indeed, even the attempt to prosecute on such grounds is rare, with most of the examples in recent history having occurred during the McCarthyite years of the 1950s.

More from HuffPo:

Most of the cases involved the House Un-American Activities Committee and its communist witch-hunts in the 1950s. But one that is particularly instructive involves a Buffalo, N.Y., woman named Diantha Hoag, who was fired from her factory job after Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his Senate Committee on Government Operations accused her of being a communist and she pleaded the Fifth.

In that case, Hoag answered many more questions than Lerner did. She listed several places where she had lived, said she worked at a Westinghouse plant, and told committee members that she knew Westinghouse contracted with the military. Lerner never went beyond a short opening statement professing her innocence.

Hoag flatly refused to answer questions about her associates and any communist connections she may have had.

When McCarthy attempted to compel her testimony through the courts, as Issa is now threatening, a judge did not look kindly on the bid, declaring: “I reach the conclusion that the defendant did not waive her privilege under the Fifth Amendment and therefore did not violate the statute in question in refusing to answer the questions propounded to her. Therefore, I find that she is entitled to a judgment of acquittal on all counts.”

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 9, 2014

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Darrell Issa, IRS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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