The IRS is a good political issue for Republicans. But are they in danger of overreaching on it?

June 3, 2013

Congress returns to Washington this week with a schedule chock full of hearings in the Republican-controlled House focused on the IRS's targeting of conservative groups.


The U.S. Capitol Building. Washington Post photo.

On Monday, a House Appropriations subcommittee will be in the national spotlight as acting IRS director Danny Werfel testifies before Congress for the first time since being named to the job in the wake of last month's scandal. On Tuesday, conservative groups flagged by the IRS will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold hearings on spending by the IRS.

By the end of the week, there will have been six hearings in the House or Senate regarding the IRS's scandal, which leads to the question: How many is too many?

"My suspicion is Republicans in Congress will stay too obsessed," former White House senior adviser David Plouffe predicted in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" program Sunday. "Kind of surfing scandals, trying to repeal Obamacare for the 40th time, and less on the economy, and doing the job they were sent [to do]."

Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for George W. Bush's presidency, acknowledged that he worries "a little bit" about the possibility of overreach, particularly if his party loses sight of the need to offer its own vision on the economy.

Rove may be the most visible Republican to admit a bit of concern about the possibility of his side going down a political rabbit hole over the next few years, but he is not the only one. That said, most of the concern in the professional political class is a single-minded focus by their party on Benghazi, not on the IRS. (Rove, too, defended the IRS investigation, calling the actions taken by the agency as "worthy of a third-world country, not the United States.")

What remains to be seen is how long Congressional GOPers can -- and should -- continue to focus on the agency and its admitted wrongdoing if no new revelations tying the IRS's targeting to senior administration officials arise.

At the moment, the American public seems perfectly comfortable with how Republicans are handling the IRS scandal. A CNN poll showed that the majority of Americans believe GOPers have reacted appropriately to the IRS revelations while more than three-quarters of respondents think a special prosecutor should be appointed to further investigate the wrongdoing, according to a Quinnipiac University survey.

Plouffe's suggestion of overreach is designed to do two things: 1. Raise the image of the late 1990s and impeachment, which backfired for Republicans, in the minds of the political world. 2. Send a signal to Democrats -- elected officials, operatives and the like -- that the best message going forward is one that focuses on why Republicans continue to take their eye off the economic ball.

So much of how the IRS plays politically depends on whether (and how much) new information comes out from either the hearings this week or in the weeks to come. If Republicans unearth nothing new -- or nothing major -- there may come a time when it behooves them politically to begin to refocus on other topics. If, however, the IRS and administration continues (as they have) to struggle to get their collective story straight on what happened and why, this could wind up being a deep electoral vein well worth the time spent mining it by Republicans.

Fixbits:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the GOP is "open for repairs."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted a bipartisan immigration measure would pass the Senate by July 4.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar."

The IRS spent about $49 million on at least 220 conferences for employees over a three-year span, according to a new watchdog report.

Virginia GOP lieutenant gubernatorial nominee E.W. Jackson said Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli suggested he consider running for lieutenant governor during a 2010 conversation. Cuccinelli's campaign challenged Jackson's recollection.

A College Republican National Committee study about what went wrong for Republicans with young voters in 2012 paints a grim picture of the party.

Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia's chief of staff resigned after being implicated in an election manipulation scheme.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said candidates must agree to be mentored by a current GOP senator if they want NRSC money.

Former Secret Service agent and 2010 Senate nominee Daniel Bongino (R) plans to challenge Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) next year.

Must-reads:

"GOP governors’ endorsements of Medicaid expansion deepen rifts within party" -- Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

"As Clock Ticks, Senate Plans Student Loan Test Votes" -- Lauren Smith, Roll Call

"Google’s Washington Insider" -- Edward Wyatt, New York Times

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Sean Sullivan | June 2, 2013