May 22 2013

An Official in the Obama IRS Finds an Amendment She Likes: The Fifth

Charlotte Hays

A retired IRS agent of my acquaintance (yes, we all have some shady friendships!) once told about the difficulties of becoming a retired citizen. He said nobody paid as much attention to him. What he missed from his days as an IRS lawyer was…the power.

Now, this was before tea party gate, and I don’t know if he got his jollies lording it over taxpayers. I have my suspicions, but I don't know.

I do, however, know that the thrills running up the legs of many of us in the republic at the sight of IRS officials hauled before Congress is…absolutely justified. Steven Miller, the former acting IRS commissioner, who was forced out of his (acting!) position by the scandal, turned in a resoundingly awful performance.

Charles Hurt, one of the funniest guys in Washington (yes, there are some wits in Seriousville) writes about it this morning:

Right away, Mr. Miller got down to the business of reminding everyone why we all hate the IRS so much.

“Unfortunately, given time considerations,” he began, “the IRS was unable to prepare written testimony.”

Given time considerations? Unable to prepare? Are you kidding us?

Have you ever heard of April 15? Can you imagine if we called up the IRS and said, “Given time considerations, we were unable to prepare our tax filings today.”

Under the threat of a gun and promise of jail time, we file our taxes precisely on time every year. Without fail. Without excuse. Without complaint. Everyone has heard the nightmares of ruinous IRS penalties aimed at destroying lives, families and livelihoods for missing those deadlines.

But given the “time constraints,” you weren’t able to prepare? Tell that to the thousands of small business owners who have gone bankrupt because they couldn’t make payments on time. Or failed to file proper tax returns….

Then [Miller] tried blaming the scandal on Congress and taxpayers for not giving the agency enough money. Then he blamed it on people inside the agency who were just “trying to be more efficient.”

Good luck with that one, too. “The reason I did not pay my taxes is because, well, I didn’t have enough money. And I was trying to be more efficient by eliminating this one huge expense called TAXES!”

See you in Sing Sing!

Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS division that harassed conservative-leaning organizations, is scheduled to testify today. It has been reported that Ms. Lerner, who has been promoted to the wildly powerful position of IRS health czar, will likely invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions—a right an ordinary citizen doesn’t have when confronted with questions from the IRS.

Though the higher ups at the IRS have sought to blame the scandal on low-level people, digging by a Fox affiliate in Cincinnati suggests that this is not the case. The Weekly Standard has the details on this. But of course, we are smart enough to know that if this misbehavior were limited to underlings, Ms. Lerner would be singing—as opposed to Sing Singing.

But of course, even if we can’t help indulging in a soupcon of schadenfreude at seeing IRS officials twisting slowly, slowly in the breeze, we should not lose sight of what’s important. This scandal isn’t just about people who got too big for their britches. It is about a federal government that is too big for its britches. Bill Kristol knows what the real scandal is:

The health care legislation of which President Obama is so proud is more dangerous to our freedoms than the (admittedly serious) abuses of the IRS about which President Obama professes to be apologetic. The defense cuts and the foreign policy doctrines—such as “leading from behind”—that President Obama embraces are more dangerous to our national security than the (certainly deplorable) cover-up over Benghazi. The views openly advocated by his Justice Department with respect to religious freedom, racial preferences, and constitutional interpretation are more dangerous to our constitutional system than the (undoubtedly shocking) management failures
at the department.

Obama’s scandals are damaging to the country. Congress should do its duty in getting to the bottom of them, and if the scandals weaken Obama’s ability to push through bad legislation, conservatives have no obligation to look that gift horse in the mouth. But Obama’s liberal policies are more dangerous than his managerial scandals.

As a conservative, I am inclined to look askance at the (nevertheless perfectly understandable) calls for a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this scandal. But the scandal is bigger than a few individuals. Andrew McCarthy makes that point in a piece on why there should be no special prosecutor:

More important, pushing for[a special prosecutor] sends entirely the wrong signals. It indicates that criminal culpability takes precedence over political accountability. Worse, it suggests that the evil here is the malfeasance of a few government officials. To the contrary, the problem is a perversely complex regulatory framework that gives the IRS — which should simply collect taxes based on an easily knowable formula — enormous discretionary power to discriminate and intimidate. That makes the IRS an un-American weapon, particularly when it is controlled by an Alinskyite will-to-power administration.

If we are ever to turn back the abuses of big government, this is our time, this is our moment.

Never before have the perils of big government for the ordinary citizen been more in evidence.

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