The ongoing hearing today in the House Ways and Means Committee on the IRS scandals have been revealing, to say the least. New IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel appeared on his 34th day on the job to brief the committee on his review of the agency’s activities, but he didn’t add much to the conversation — other than asking for a bigger budget, which prompted scorn from Paul Ryan. Pointing to the millions wasted by IRS employees on travel, parties, and personal purchases, Ryan told Werfel that the problem might be that they have too much money.
Rep. Gerlach wondered aloud about all of the money that went out from Treasury in improper payments, which Werfel said needed to stop. Gerlach asked what disciplinary actions had been taken for agents who authorized the payments, but Werfel shrugged off the question. “I’m not sure that disciplinary actions would be appropriate in all of these cases,” Werfel replied to Gerlach’s vocal disappointment, who demanded to know whether IRS agents ever face disciplinary actions.
That led to Rep. Tom Price’s questions about the leak of confidential information from National Organization for Marriage to its political appointments. Earlier, Werfel said that he had no specific knowledge of the case, nor whether it had been referred to investigators. Price criticized Werfel’s answer and stated that the actions of the agency undermined what little trust Americans have in tax collection. Peter Roskam noted prior to that exchange that the IRS was a lot more parsimonious when it came to sharing information with Congress, showing an e-mail requested by the committee that had been redacted to the point that the only information left was the address bar.
Rep. Dave Camp, the GOP chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who presided over Thursday’s hearing, called Werfel’s initial report incomplete and led the tough questioning about the targeting.
“So far, the evidence only shows conservatives being targeted, not just flagged, but targeted,” Camp said. He also said that Werfel’s response “fails to deliver the accountability the American people deserve.”
Another GOP legislator, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, called Werfel’s report “a sham.”
Basically, the hearing was a demonstration of just how unaccountable and insular the IRS has become. Thanks to a tax code that allows for all sorts of political machinations, the advent of ObamaCare, and a misguided campaign-finance reform regime, the IRS is at the nexus of the Big Government Project, I argue in my column today for The Fiscal Times — and the best argument for limited government:
An earlier report says the IRS spent more than $50 million on more than 200 employee conferences between 2010 and 2012, including one 2012 meeting in Anaheim, CA, that cost taxpayers $4 million. The Associated Press reported that many attendees were given perks including baseball tickets and hotel suites on the taxpayers’ dime.
The IRS, George noted on that occasion, didn’t even have a mechanism to enforce prompt payment of travel bills or to punish those who paid late. Is that the experience that taxpayers have when dealing with the IRS? I daresay that anyone who fails to pay taxes on time or at all will not find the same laxity as the agency’s employees do when handling funds entrusted to them by those same taxpayers.
Some might shrug off the few million dollars lost in these two reports, but another emerging scandal at the IRS involves $500 million in contracts awarded by the agency – and yet another IRS executive taking the Fifth in front of Congress. …
At the same hearing where Roseman took the 5th, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) – who lost two legs and nearly lost an arm while serving in Iraq with the National Guard – ripped Castillo for making this claim. “I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again ‘to protect this great country,’” Duckworth scornfully told Castillo. “Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws, we’re not sure yet … but you certainly broke the trust of this nation.”
Indeed – and so has the IRS, which has demonstrated that it cannot provide accountability for the great power it wields now, let alone the power it will wield as Obamacare comes into force. Fournier reluctantly recommended a special prosecutor to pursue the targeting scandal, but the real problem at the IRS is that it’s too large, too intrusive, too costly, and too insular – which means that it’s a microcosm of all the problems we have long predicted about big government.
The hearing probably didn’t draw many viewers this morning, but it was still quite enlightening.