Congress vs. IRS: The do-littles vs. the do-wrongs.
With 79 percent of Americans disapproving of its performance, Congress finally found a government group that’s probably more disliked than the politicians: the tax bureaucrats.
The U.S. House's tax-agency inquests that began Thursday and run through this week are bad American government on display.
At the least, the hearings make clear that the IRS does a bad job enforcing bad law. And those laws are written by Congress.
And that’s not only the case when it comes to the way the IRS unfairly profiled and delayed the formation of 298 tea party and other groups applying for nonprofit political status.
Just last month, on tax-filing day, as many as 1.5 million American citizens learned that their tax IDs had been stolen.
It happens every year. Especially here. Nine of the top 10 metropolitan areas hardest hit by this crime are in Florida, from Miami-Fort Lauderdale (1) to Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (10).
Yet the IRS and Congress do relatively little to stop it.
Now tax ID fraud is a roaring $5.2 billion industry.
Both cases of IRS incompetence (or worse) deserve far more Congressional scrutiny, answers and, perhaps, action.
But review the numbers:
*1.5 million victims; the U.S. treasury deprived of $5.2 billion annually in tax-fraud cases
*298 unfairly targeted nonprofits; only 32 percent appeared ostensibly tea party-related; none denied nonprofit status.
One situation is the subject of multiple hearings, nationally watched drama and swift political action.
The other, by comparison, gets a few low-profile hearings, a handful of bills being filed annually that die and few let’s-get-to-the-bottom-of-this statements of outrage from Congress.
A major difference between the two cases?
Politics, the campaign-industrial-complex kind.
That appears to be Congress’s chief concern, the political game.
The tax-ID fraud cases likely involve just the average Joe who’s struggling to get ahead. He’s not forming political committees that masquerade as “social welfare” nonprofits. He’s not as likely to be marshaling money to help anyone in Congress.
The tea party cases involve many politically motivated groups who are registering as social-welfare 501(c)4s. That way, they don’t have to disclose donors.
Political nonprofit filings have increased 64 percent between 2009 and 2012. With scant disclosure, the nonprofits spent $133 million in 2010 and then $315 million in 2012 on elections, according to the open-government group, Center for Responsive Politics.
“The real IRS scandal is not the targeting of tea party groups (though that is a scandal); it's the shocking lack of much scrutiny at all of the vast majority of politically active nonprofits that poured hundreds of millions of dollars into our elections over the last four years,” the center wrote on its blog.
The center is partly right.
The real scandal is also that common-sense solutions can’t pass a Congress in thrall to special interests and hidden money.
The real scandal is also the fact that the federal government’s executive agencies under President Obama are just as opaque, arrogant and citizen-unfriendly as ever – despite his pledge to have “smart, effective government” and one that’s more-transparent than ever.