During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Disrupt” last Sunday to discuss the manufactured scandal swirling around the IRS, host Karen Finney shared an interesting conspiracy theory with me. Republicans “need this scandal … to be alive” because “essentially what this is about is if they can continue this scandal, then they can deny the IRS the additional funds that they need for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act [ACA].” While I didn’t latch onto to the “conspiracy” part of her thesis, I thought Finney had a very good theory.
And then a letter dropped into my lap that proves Finney isn’t hyping some liberal talking point.
On June 13, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich.) sent a seven-page letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asking for a mountain of documents. As part of their “investigation of the Internal Revenue Service’s politicization of the tax-exempt application review process,” the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the chairman on Ways and Means, respectively, requested “materials aiding the Committees’ responsibility to the American people of understanding the nature and scope of the IRS’s scrutiny of groups based on political criteria.” The deadline is noon, June 27.
There were nine specific demands for all manner of communications and documentation among Treasury employees related to various aspects of the IRS “scandal.” But request No. 8 is the sore thumb of the bunch.
8. All documents and communications sent by, received by, or copied to any employee of the Department of the Treasury between January 1, 2009, and the present referring or relating to the establishment of the IRS Affordable Care Act Office and the corresponding personnel and staffing decisions for the Affordable Care Act Office.
Obamacare (c’mon, let’s drop the politesse) has nothing to do with the sloppy practices of workers in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. Still, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from making the rhetorical link between the two.
“The IRS scandal revealed the targeting of conservative groups, tea party groups, pro-life groups and pro-Israel groups for intrusive questions and harassing. This is the consequence of an agency that is too big and has too much power,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in a radio ad that debuted on Tuesday. “And now, the IRS is supposed to be put in charge of administering Obamacare. Enough is enough.” At a tea party rally at the Capitol yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked the crowd, “Anybody want to fire some IRS agents? Why don’t we start with the 16,000 IRS agents that are going to implement Obamacare.”
But No. 8 of the Issa-Camp letter is the very definition of a fishing expedition, and it is the first time the IRS scandal and Obamacare have been officially linked in a congressional investigation. And it is a barely disguised attempt to find something — ANYTHING — that could be used to undermine President Obama’s greatest legislative accomplishment.
In his chilling story on the stunning hostage drama that is the Republican House, The Post’s Paul Kane revealed the back story on that futile 37th vote. “A few dozen Republicans opposed the modest Helping Sick Americans legislation because they said it came from nowhere,” Kane wrote. “Instead, Cantor pulled the bill and held another vote to repeal Obamacare — their 37th attempt to repeal part or all of the landmark health-care law — to appease conservatives.”
So, now those conservatives are trolling e-mails and documents in a spectacularly wasteful attempt to find a there there to hobble Obamacare, if not kill it entirely? Issa’s office disputes this.
“Sarah Hall Ingram and a number of others worked in the tax-exempt government entities division before moving to the Affordable Care Act office,” said Becca Glover Watkins, deputy communications director for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Is there a concern that those employees might or would selectively apply the tax provisions of Obamacare? Watkins said, “It’s just asking for information, not expressing a concern.”
If there’s no concern then why ask the question? It’s not like the Treasury staff has nothing better to do or that their time and attention are needed in areas that have actual benefit to the American people. Also, it should be pointed out that Lew told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt during an interview in May that Ingram had moved from the tax-exempt office to the ACA office before the troubling actions began.
Look, I’m no fan of conspiracy theories. But when it comes to the contention that the real aim of the IRS “scandal” is to undermine the agency as a means to get at Obamacare, the Issa letter shows Finney was onto something.
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