Lawmakers take audit of IRS leadership

By:  Gary Weckselblatt

If acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller were Ebenezer Scrooge, Congressman Mike Kelly would have been one of the not-so-friendly ghosts making him feel like the subject of one of his hellish audits.

While each of the area’s five federal lawmakers made known their disgust with the IRS targeting of conservative political groups, it was Kelly who transferred the public’s anger and had Miller squirming last week.

“If you think it’s uncomfortable sitting over there, you ought to be a private individual when the IRS is across from you questioning you,” Kelly said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

Kelly, the Republican who represents Erie, New Castle and Butler counties, spoke for just about anyone who’s had to deal with the IRS when he said “They can do almost anything they want, to anybody they want, any time they want.

“Is there any limit to the scope of where you folks can go?”

Miller was a stubborn witness, the typical brilliant bureaucrat who conveniently forgets facts critical to his high-paying salary.

“Where you’re sitting, you should be outraged, but you’re not,” Kelly told him.

He then asked Miller some questions IRS agents asked of conservatives: “Who do you get emails from? Whose sign do you put up in your front yard?

“Is this a tax question?,” Kelly said. “And you don’t think that’s intimidating? It’s sure as hell intimidating.”

Kelly wasn’t through. “... you all can do just about anything you want to anybody. ... When the IRS comes in you’re not allowed to be shoddy. You’re not allowed to be run horribly. You’re not allowed to make mistakes. You’re not allowed to do one damn thing that doesn’t come in compliance. If you do you’re held responsible right then.”

Those in the audience sitting behind Miller cheered as Kelly completed his time.

It’s not just Republicans angered by the IRS actions. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, D-13, and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey also took the agency to task.

At the same hearing in which Kelly grilled Miller, Schwartz said, “The American people deserve to be able to trust their government for fairness and lack of bias. And that was violated. And that violation is outrageous and unacceptable to us and I hope to you.”

Casey, following a Senate Finance Committee hearing, said in a statement that he didn’t see any outrage amping testifiers.

“Frankly, I was struck by the lack of responsibility and contrition on the part of those testifying today before the committee,” he stated.

During the Senate hearing, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said despite denials the scandal appears to have been politically motivated.

“To the best of my knowledge, there was no criteria identifying left-of-center organizations as deserving special scrutiny — those using words like ‘progressive’ or ‘ninety-nine percent’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ — none of that was ever part of the criteria,” he said.

Congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, and Pat Meehan, R-7, co-sponsored the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination and Protection Act of 2013. This legislation increases the penalties for IRS employees who discriminate against a group or individual based on protected statuses. It also states political speech and expression are protected.

Fitzpatrick also criticized President Barack Obama for saying he learned about the IRS targeting through media reports.

“How is it possible?” Fitzpatrick said. “It is critical to learn what everybody in the administration knew and when they knew it.”

Meehan, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the IRS actions are “so foreign to our principles of limited government and equal justice under law that it is hard to believe.”