As if the Internal Revenue Service weren’t bad enough before…
Now as part of a trio of scandals rocking the administration, we learn the IRS — whether systemically or piecemeal — has been targeting right-wing interest groups seeking tax exemption for extra scrutiny. Ouch.
(I’ll leave Benghazi and the Nixonian Associated Press wiretapping for scholars more learned than myself. Although the AP thing hits close to home and honestly just sends a chill down my spine. Come to think of it, I will say this: You would think public officials such as President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder would be more sensitive about tactics such as these since they smack of J. Edgar Hoover’s concerted assault on the civil rights movement back in the 1960s. I guess neither political persuasion is above the corruptive influence of absolute power.)
The most damning part of this scandal, though, as taken from the latest AP story:
“The agency started targeting groups with ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriots" or ‘9/12 Project’ in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general’s report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.”
(That means it went along enough to become standard operating procedure...)
Anyway, my first thought? “Well, that’s pretty damn embarrassing.”
But on the heels of that, it quickly occurred to me we’re talking about the very federal agency that's about to assume enforcement responsibility for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s mandate and subsequent tax, formerly known as a penalty. And that immediately elevates the reaction from a laughable “oops,” to a chilling “oh crap.”
(And, yeah, I know, this blog’s probably already put me in the IRS crosshairs. I’ll let you know as soon as I get audited.)
It looks as if we’ve already turned national revenue generation and collection into a punitive practice. “If we can’t arrest ’em, tax ’em,” emerges as the new federal motto to keep us all in check.
Far be it from me to succumb to federal paranoia or conspiracy theories in general. Call me overly pragmatic, or maybe just unimaginitive, but I’ve no doubt Oswald acted alone, and I’m actually offended by those who suggest anyone but terrorists had anything to do with 9/11. But this growing IRS scandal — aside from the obvious fear factor — is going to fuel the tin foil hats for years now. And with pretty good reason.
Not that this is historically unheard of, since the agency’s been used as a political knee-breaker for decades, originally strong-arming opponents of FDR. But we’re talking about a much stronger — and larger — federal agency. No one ever talks about it, but PPACA grants the IRS a much wider range of still largely unaccountable powers. It also represents the biggest boost to the agency since the 1950s.
Should smaller-to mid-sized employers with right-leaning political persuasions be doubly concerned about their health insurance plan offerings? And should those on the left be just as worried once a Republican finds his way back into the White House?
I know Holder’s now launched a criminal investigation, but I can’t help but think it’s political window-dressing. A few people will quit, the media will move on, and business will continue as usual, which is probably the most insidious aspect of this entire debacle.
Now I know I’m in the minority here (again), but I’m honestly not a fan of tax-exempt groups, period. I think we’d solve so many of our problems with a simpler tax code based on a flat across-the-board income tax for individuals, businesses and so-called nonprofits.
But now I’m just daydreaming. I should go double-check my W-2s.