Before Congress is finished with the Internal Revenue Service, there’s a serious danger some of us are going to wind up feeling sorry for the auditors.
And, honestly, that is not the way we were planning on spending the spring. Especially since it appears that there are people making decisions at the IRS who have the intelligence of a wet Frisbee.
But, so far, the congressional hearings of outrage have been even less sympathetic. Perhaps you didn’t have time to spend much of your Friday watching the House Ways and Means Committee grill Steven Miller, the newly axed IRS head, about the agency’s targeting of groups with names like “Tea Party” for unwelcome in-depth attention.
Let me summarize:
Committee Chairman Dave Camp: Thank you all for coming here today. Our topic is abuses in the Internal Revenue Service, an entity about the size of China, with long, spiky tentacles that reach out and squash all the hopes and dreams of the American people. My first question, Mr. Miller, is whether your agency is so enormous and evil that it will one day destroy the nation as we know it, or whether it already has, and this committee is actually just sitting on the scattered shards and rubble of what once was a great republic.
Steven Miller: Thank you for inviting me here today. I would like to begin by apologizing for mistakes that have been made. Now I am prepared to begin answering your questions, and then gradually fade into sullen exhaustion.
Rep. Sander Levin, ranking Democrat: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for organizing this bipartisan outpouring of rage. I would like to begin by welcoming Inspector General J. Russell George, and asking him to repeat his conclusion that none of the bad things we’re discussing were the result of partisan pressure. Possibly he could say that twice. Then I would like to ask him to confirm that he was appointed by George W. Bush. And then to point out that the guy who was in charge of the IRS when all this happened was also appointed by George W. Bush.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.: Mr. Miller, how would you like it if we were to subpoena your emails and phone calls and rec- ords of anyone you’ve met with over the last four years? Also, have you ever had any contact with the Obama re-election campaign?
Miller: I would just like to say in my defense that the IRS provided horrible customer service.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Fla.: What the IRS did was inexcusable. Also, I want to register my strong protests about the way Mr. Miller keeps interrupting me while I am demanding that he answer my questions.
And then everybody went home for the weekend.
What are we going to do about the IRS? Some of its workers made wildly inappropriate judgments, and some of its top brass appears to have the spunk of a pillow. Congress is demanding that heads roll, but the inspector general says that, so far, there’s no evidence of political pressure, just ineptitude.
There is literally only one person in the entire operation who’s not covered by civil service, so I wouldn’t expect a purge. Miller, in his testimony, said that, so far, one employee has been relocated in punishment for his or her role in the case. The nation cries out for blood and gets a transfer.
But here’s where the sympathy comes in. The IRS employees were stuck with a pile of 70,000 applications for the tax-exempt status that’s awarded to organizations engaged in social welfare issues. Recently, political groups have been gaming the system, announcing they’re just do-gooders with a minor political sideline in order to qualify. When they succeed, they get to keep their donors secret. The rules for who qualifies are murky, and, according to Miller, only about 150 to 200 people were making the decisions about who got further scrutiny.
Also, they were working at the Determinations Unit of the Rulings and Agreements Office of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS. Spending their lives trying to clarify the 501(c)(4) status. You try that for a while and see how you like it.
If Congress wanted to help, the members could simplify the law so IRS minions aren’t trying to figure out which groups spend only 49 percent of their resources on politics as opposed to 51 percent.
Or, Congress could give the IRS more money to do the job it’s stuck with now. The budget has been cut almost $1 billion over the past few years while its duties have expanded. On Friday, IRS workers will enjoy the first of a series of unpaid furloughs thanks to that sequester.
Or Congress could just keep holding committee hearings in hopes that investigators will finally discover that the IRS offices in Cincinnati are actually controlled by a pack of left-wing operatives who are not only Obamaphiles but also vampires. Vampires who had no respect for the laws regarding 501(c)(4) status.